UNDER CONSTRUCTION

You are on a Heroic Journey

The teenage years are, by definition, a heroic journey. That may sound weird, but it is literally true. For you as a teenager it is the journey required to leave childhood behind and become a young adult. The heroic journey, for people of any age, is a process of maturing, developing, becoming more competent and complete. The teenager years are a journey of transforming from one way of being in the world (childhood) to another (young adulthood).

Fortunately we have a story to make sense out of that experience and provide guidance in figuring out how to deal with it. That’s really good because the journey is unavoidable.

You leave the childhood world you have known and cross a threshold into a world with a high degree of unknown where you face challenges that are physical, emotional, intellectual, social and sometimes spiritual in nature.

You have to let go of old ways of thinking, acting and relating and master a stunning number of “new ways.” And you have to live in the land of “inbetweenity”—the land between letting go and new mastery. In fact, the teen years are mostly “inbetweenity.” The major authorship of your life shifts from the adults in your life to you—as does the responsibility for your life. It will probably be like a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs and be scary and exciting—and sometimes boring.

For you as teenagers, that experience lasts for years. Most journeys in adulthood don’t last nearly as long as that of the teenage years—one reason why being a teenager can be so tough.

Teen Heroic Journey
Challenge #1 Forming an Identity

Introduction:

WHAT WILL I FIND HERE?

There are three levels of detail here:
1. A brief outline of what you need to know and do on the journey
2. A summary of each topic in the outline
3. A bigger section with more details for each topic, including ways to apply what you learn

So, you can take in the outline at a glance and see what interests you. You can check the summary to get a picture of each topic. And you can go into more detail and use the questions and tools that help you apply each topic to your experience.

“I Am No Longer a Child - Who Am I as a Young Man or Young Woman?”

The Personal Challenge - Putting the Identity Puzzle Together

The teen years are where we really start exploring this “who am I?” question. That identity question doesn’t end after the teen years, as it is a lifelong question, but the most intense focus for most people is as a teenager.

A big part of the teen heroic journey is leaving your identity as a child behind and discovering who you are becoming – your gifts, your values, what matters to you, what you like about yourself and what you want to change or develop. Who am I in the world? Who am I in my relationships with family, friends, romantic partners, my community, etc.?

It’s Asking the Questions that Matters

The best approach is to relax and be curious – pay attention and talk with others. The answers will come. Putting your identity puzzle together takes time – it is a journey and sometimes a long one. Your sense of identity will grow and evolve.

You Have an Identity in Two Worlds - the Physical and Digital Worlds

In terms of identity, we now live in a physical world and increasingly in a digital world (internet/social media). Almost everything that follows about forming an identity applies to both worlds, so these basics can be trusted.

It’s best to focus on the physical world and then determine how the digital world applies. Digital identities are important and becoming more so. However, identity starts with you and your physical world and extends to the digital. It may not always feel that way, but that is the healthy way. In other words, figure yourself out and then project yourself. The reality is that you will figure yourself out partly online, so it’s not a hard boundary. It just works better to focus on the physical world.

Many of the issues relating to your digital world will be directly addressed in the section on your personal brand, but everything in this section feeds directly into that.

“What’s Here? What Can I Get From this Section?”

Knowledge is power. Understanding what to expect on the path of developing an identity as a young woman or young man makes a tremendous difference in the experience – and the outcomes. You will also find interactive worksheets that allow you to capture your thoughts for most of these topics.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.

― e. e. cummings

There are Four Keys to Success

As with the Identity and Competency challenges, the key to being successful with relationships is to follow four principles:

1. Face the Challenge Directly
The challenge to form new more mature relationships with a bunch of people, most of whom are trying to find their own way and changing rapidly, will be there by definition. Your power is based on directly engaging with the challenge.

2. Be the author and act
, even when unsure about what actions to take. The central challenge of the heroic journey is saying “yes” to the journey and becoming the author (as much as possible) of the experience.

3. Get support from others and support others.
Heroes don’t ever go alone in the myths (and succeed) and we don’t either in taking on our life challenges. We need support from others and we can also support others on their journey.

4. Persevere through the setbacks, disappointments and tough times.
Because it’s a rollercoaster, there will naturally be some tough times, setbacks and disappointments – for everyone. That’s just the way it works. Staying engaged with the challenge and refusing to give in or give up is essential. That’s actually where a great deal of your growth will happen.

Four Forms of Courage Are Required

Each of the four keys to success relies on courage. Courage is the central characteristic that provides the foundation for all of our other qualities. Courage is not the lack of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear.

  1. The courage to face the challenge and all the tests directly
  2. The courage to take responsibility for your life and be the author
  3. The courage to rely on others
  4. The courage to “hold the course” and never give up

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

― Anais Nin

Table of Contents:

Summary

These paragraphs will give you a good picture of what you can find in each of the topics in this section. If you skim through the summary, you will get a good idea of what the challenge of developing a web of increasingly mature relationships is about – and you can choose which parts of are interest to you.

Part One: From Child to Adult - It’s a Journey It Takes Time

1. It’s a Journey

Forming an identity is one of the core challenges for all teenagers, so everyone is facing this challenge. It takes time to develop an identity as a young man or young woman. You can, however, discover a surprising number of elements that form an identity early in the teen years. And the journey can be an emotional roller coaster with successes and setbacks, excitement and anxiety and lots of unknowns as well as discoveries. ...Read More

2. There are Two Perspectives – Self and Social – Inner & Outer Voices

The most important perspective is your own perspective of who you are – how you see yourself. There will, however, always be a social perspective – how others see you. Those two perspectives will always be at play together, but your self-perspective is the critical one – and the one you are most responsible for.
Your own inner voices will also be at play – the positive self-talk and the negative self-talk. “I can do this vs. I’ll never do this” or “People won’t really like me vs. I am pretty likeable.” There are lots of internal voices and they chatter a lot. ...Read More

Part Two: Elements That Combine to Form Your Identity Puzzle

3. Your Significance – “Yes, now as a teenager”

Central to your identity – particularly your self-perspective – are coming to realize your significance (you are already more significant than you think), discovering a sense of purpose and meaning, identifying your personal qualities and adopting the set of values that will help define you. Although these begin as your-self perspective, they will obviously heavily influence how others see you. ...Read More

4. Your Purpose – Life Purpose or Purpose as a Teenager

“What is my purpose? This is a big question and the answer may not be clear as a teenager. The question will, however, come alive during the teenage years. And yes, the key is to ask the question, not come up with an immediate and crystal clear answer that will last forever. It is very likely that you will identify a sense of purpose as a teenager that will evolve as you get older. Your initial focus may be your purpose as a teenager or it may be a sense of your life purpose. It does not matter which focus you have as long as you are asking the question – and hopefully talking with others about it. ...Read More

5. Your Personal Qualities

Discovering your personal qualities – and acting on them – is another piece in building the jigsaw puzzle or tapestry of your identity. This is similar to discovering your purpose and how you are significant. There are a surprising number of personal qualities that you already possess and a bunch more that you can develop relatively easily, so exploring your personal qualities can be exciting. ...Read More

6. Your Values

You will come to your teenage years with beliefs and values, but the natural challenge on the teenage journey is to challenge them given your new mental capabilities, awareness of the world around you and your drive to become your own person.

This doesn’t mean a wholesale rejection of childhood beliefs and values. We usually keep most of the key beliefs and values, but can add some new ones, and let some go. The critical point is that they become truly your beliefs and values and they can then guide you and support you in life....Read More

7. Ten Other Key Identity Factors

Along with the core elements of significance, purpose, personal qualities and values, there is a set of other elements that can play a large or small role for you in defining your identity. Everyone differs in how important these elements are, but they will be in play. The question is, “Which of these elements helps to define who I am – how I see myself and how others see me?” ...Read More

The Big Five

  1. Gender & Sexual Orientation
  2. Race and Ethnicity
  3. Activities & affiliations (sports, the arts, community service…)
  4. Physical appearance
  5. Capabilities


  6. Five More Key Elements

  7. Culture
  8. Religion
  9. Socio-economic status
  10. Nation/Region
  11. Politics

Part Three: Explore and Commit

8. On the Journey – Exploring & Committing

There are two core sets of action – explore and commit. The first set of actions is to explore different aspects of your identity. The second is to make decisions about who you are and who you might be.

There is a lot to explore in terms of your identity, so there will be a lot of exploring of identity before full commitment. That’s the way it works, but you can commit to lots of parts of your identity along the way. It doesn’t happen all at once and sometimes you will change your mind about different aspects of your identity. ...Read More

9. Where Am I on the Journey? The Four “Identity States”

There is a very important model here by James Marcia that shows the stages that teenagers go through in developing an identity. There are four “identity states”, that represent how much you have explored and how much you have committed to. ...Read More

Made It

Called “Identity Achieved” (lots of exploration with high degree of commitment)

Good Trajectory

Called “Identity Moratorium” (lots of exploration, but incomplete commitment)

Pretty Much Drifting

Called “Identity Diffused” (little exploration and little commitment)

Didn’t Really Start

Called “Identity Foreclosed” (little exploration, but high commitment to an identity imposed by others)

Because this is a journey, the key is your trajectory. Are you exploring the various elements in your identity? Are you making or getting close to commitments to your identity? You don’t have to be in the “made it” category. It’s your trajectory that matters. Remember, it’s a journey and you are “becoming.”

Part Four: Put the Picture Together

10. Your Identity Puzzle

There are obviously lots of pieces that can go into creating your identity. One way to put those pieces together is to think of them as puzzle pieces that fit together to create the picture of “you.” Some of those pieces will change over time and some won’t, but having a picture is a powerful way to see yourself and who you are becoming. ...Read More

11. Your Personal Brand

Another way to think about your emerging identity as a young adult is to think about your “brand.” You might think, “I’m not a product like Lexus or a service like Google – why do I need to think about my “brand?”

The value of thinking about your brand is primarily to integrate all the various elements that combine to create your identity – the picture you have of yourself and the picture others have of you. It’s a summary – and it’s important.

Your personal brand will be a less complex picture of your identity than the puzzle approach, but either approach works and you can play with both. ...Read More

12. Social Media and Your Brand

You’re probably online, which means that you already have a personal brand online. Whether you like it or not, the digital footprints you’re leaving across the Internet help create your personal brand. By being aware and proactive, you can manage that brand. By being reactive and unaware, it gets managed for you. ...Read More

Part Five – Avoid the Identity Pitfalls

13. Failing to Explore Your Identity

You can ignore the challenge and drift for a while, but as you get older, it becomes more and more important for you to take on the identity challenge directly. ...Read More

14. False Identities

There are a bunch of ways that you can take on an identity that is easily available, but not authentically you. These are elements such as: “I am who I know or am in a relationship with.” “My status symbols or the money I have define me.” “My identity is based on my rebellion ‘against’ something vs. my belief and commitment ‘to’ something.” “I’m defined by a mistake I’ve made or something I’ve failed at.”

These factors may have an impact on your identity, but they shouldn’t be allowed to form it. Most of them aren’t authentically you - or who you are becoming. Some, like mistakes and failures, can’t be allowed to have too much influence. ...Read More

15. All or Nothing

This is the pitfall where you believe that if you aren’t perfect or as smart/attractive/tough/street-smart/talented as another, that you are nothing or “just…” We are a combination of a lot of factors – and that’s what gives us our value or worth – it’s why we can form relationships, hold jobs, etc. Being the best at something is great, but it doesn’t go very far in terms of creating a strong resilient identity. That takes a lot of elements and few of them will be “the best at…” ...Read More

16. Basing Your Identity on One or Two Elements

This is an easy pitfall to fall into until you are pretty far down the path and have discovered a lot of different aspects of your identity. You can over-identify with being a star athlete or performer, an excellent student, being very attractive, being rich, etc. You can also over-identify with being unattractive, a poor student, not a star at any particular activities, being in a racial or ethnic minority, having a sexual orientation that is not the norm, etc. Authentic healthy identities are made up of a bunch of elements, not just a few. ...Read More

17. Giving Up Yourself to Be in a Relationship

This is the big one that everyone struggles with. It’s really easy to try too hard to fit with someone or a group and give up too much of yourself. We all have to compromise a bit to fit into relationships, but too much compromise twists us out of shape and we lose too much of ourselves. During the teenage years, with all the changing and developing going on with everyone, this is a major pitfall. ...Read More

Part One: From Child to Adult -
It’s a Journey – It Takes Time

1. The Heroic Journey - From Child to Young Adult

Why Is the Heroic Journey Story So Important to My Identity?
The biggest reason is that it simply takes time to develop your own authentic identity as a young woman or man. It really is a journey with lots of ups and downs, experiments and discoveries and experiences with a whole variety of people (some helpful and some not). You can’t just continue with your old identity of childhood and you can’t just take a ready-made identity off the shelf and put it on. You can try, but it won’t work.

Knowing what to expect on the journey doesn’t take away all the difficulties, but it does arm you to know what’s normal and to be better prepared to figure out how to deal with it. Here are how the basic elements of a heroic journey look in terms of developing an identity.

Being the Author of Your Identity

This is about you starting to take charge of your life and leaving childhood behind.

Letting go of your child identity and developing your identity as a young woman or young man is a central part of that journey.

The heroic journey is all about being the author of a life and we go through lots of large and small journeys over a lifetime (lots of changes and development). Being the author of a life is always the challenge, but the teen years are where it comes center-stage and where it can be the most intense.

You Are Thrown Into the Journey – You Didn’t Ask For it

You did not ask for this journey. You got thrown into it by your body, which is following the natural path of transforming from a child to an adult – physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. As a teenager, you get thrown out of your old identity as a child and into a journey that will last quite a while and challenge you in many ways to build your new identity as a young man or young woman.

The trick is to say, “OK, I got thrown into this teenage journey, but I am now going to start taking charge of the experience (being the author). You can’t stop or control the journey, but you can dramatically influence how it plays out – as you become more and more of the author of the experience and feel more of a call to become a young adult.

The Three Types of Tests to be Faced

In all journeys – large or small – we face three tests: Letting go of old ways; discovering and mastering new ways; and dealing with being in-between the old and the new - “inbetweenity.” There is no way around these tests as a teenager – it’s just the way it works. These are the three types of tests faced on a heroic journey.

Letting Go

We have to let go of being a child – the sense of the one to be cared for, of having limited responsibility, of being in simple relationships and of being small with few expectations of us.

Discovery

We have to discover a new identity that includes being responsible, caring for others as well as being cared for, being a worthy partner in relationships, having the set of competencies required to be an adult, etc.

“Inbetweenty”

And, we have to deal with having one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood – for years. “Inbetweenity” is characterized by lots of conflicting thoughts and emotions: clarity and confusion, excitement and anxiety; certainty and uncertainty; hopes and fears; feeling large and powerful and feeling small and vulnerable; etc.

Connecting With Others on Your Path

In the myths throughout time the heroes never go alone. They sometimes get isolated, but eventually come back into contact with others – and there are lots of others on the path.

You will encounter companions (other teenagers you travel with during different parts of the journey), helpers and healers, teachers and wise men and women who share their wisdom, and sometimes rescuers. You will also encounter opponents and enemies, tricksters - those who would lead you off the path and those who would sell you simple answers to the complex questions of being a teenager.

Your job is to find and establish relationships with those who will support you in different ways – and to figure out how to deal with those people who would undermine you. This is your support network – the web of relationships that will help you deal, not only with the challenge of identity, but also the challenges of developing relationships and building competencies.

Keep the Tough Times in Perspective on the Journey

This is surprisingly important for a couple of reasons. First, it’s important to remember that the teenage journey is a long one and you can’t really rush through it – the journey will unfold. Second, keep in mind that when the tough times happen, they don’t last forever. Tough times are part of life - but only one part - but when you are in the middle of a tough time it can seem to dominate everything and feel like it will last forever. It won’t. It’s just a part of the journey that is hard. As you get more experience with the emotional roller coaster of being a teenager, this gets easier to remember.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”

― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

2. Two Perspectives – Self and Social – Inner Voices & Outer Voices

There are two perspectives that combine to provide a picture of our identity – throughout life, not just as a teenager. There is our own self-perception – how we see ourselves. And there is also how others see us – our social identity. Our inner voices combine with the outer voices to define us. Our self-perception is the key, but how others see us as teenagers can have a healthy or an unhealthy impact.

WARNING! Social Identity Can Have an Outsized Influence Initially

The hard part for teenagers about this dual aspect of identity is that, as teenagers, you don’t have a lot of experience discovering your own inner voices. You’re early in the process of developing your self-perception at the same time that the external voices are loudly influencing you. It is likely that the external voices – friends, parents, teachers, social media, traditional media, etc. - will be louder initially and your own inner voice will have to develop with time and experience. This part of the website will help you develop that inner voice, but it will take time.

The Inner and Outer Voices

It’s like choosing what channel to watch on TV – what voices are you paying attention to? Whose voices are carrying the most weight for you? Are they the ones you should be paying attention to? Time to change channels? What is your own inner voice saying? Is it mostly positive or mostly negative?

Inner Voices That Influence

We have control and responsibility for our inner voices.

What are my inner voices telling me?

  • Positive self-talk?
  • Negative self-talk?
  • “I am…”
  • “I am not…”
  • “I want to be…, but I’m not there yet”
  • “I can…”
  • “I can’t…”
  • “People think… about me”

Outer Voices That Influence

We do not have control or responsibility for our external voices, but we can manage their impact on us.

Which of these voices really matter to me and which can I discount or ignore?

  • Social/traditional media – lots of voices
  • Family – close voices
  • Peers
  • Girl/boyfriend
  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Police
  • Neighbors
  • Faith community

The Outer Voices

There are so many voices saying so many things. They can be extremely helpful. They can also do harm – short-term and long-term. Many are very important. Most, however, are not that important compared to your own inner voice.

There are some powerful external voices that can have a big impact on the image you have of yourself. These voices range from whether your body type fits the social norms of attractiveness to your sexual identification and orientation. The body type issue is particularly powerful for girls, but also seriously affects boys. Issues of sexual orientation and identity have become less destructive in some segments of society, but they are still dominant factors and can often obscure your picture of yourself and your worth.

There are also voices that can be positive or negative based on socio-economic status, race, ethnic background, religion, nationality, etc. Sometimes those voices matter a little, but they can matter a lot and have a major impact on how others see you.

Choose Which Outer Voices to Listen to

The challenge is to manage the outer voices vs. being managed by them. They aren’t bad just because they are external. Decide which of these voices really matter to you and which don’t matter very much. Which are reality based and which are assumptions or personal agendas and biases that others have? Which voices and which messages are credible? It is surprising how much you can manage the outer voices if you pay attention to them and put them in their place.

Inner Voices - Self-Talk –Devil or Angel

Self-talk has a big role in the image you have of yourself – your identity. Self-talk can be positive, like when you tell yourself “I can do this” to help get through something you’re nervous about attempting. Or, it can be negative, for instance when you tell yourself “I’ll never get it” and beat yourself up about a mistake you’ve made or think, “They would never want me for a friend.” It’s like having a little devil in your head undermining you and a little angel trying to support you.

We talk to ourselves all the time, although that may not be evident. Self-talk is that “little voice inside your head”. It’s what we tell ourselves about ourselves, or about a particular situation. We give ourselves more feedback than the rest of the world combined. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the majority of self-talk is negative for most people – 65-70% is the range most often cited.

Self-talk Can Relate to a lot of Things:
  • “How do I compare to others?”
  • “Am I up to this challenge?”
  • “How acceptable am I to others?”
  • “How much influence do I have over my life and where I am headed?”
  • “Am I living up to my standards – or the standards of others?”
  • “Is this problem temporary or is it going to dog me forever?”
  • “Am I worthy?”

Self-Talk Affects How You Think, Feel and Act

Self-talk sends the same chemical messages to your brain as actual experiences do. Your body believes your self-talk. It affects how you think, feel and act. Self-talk isn't just mindless chatter. It has a way of creating its own reality. Telling yourself you can do something can help make it happen. Telling yourself you can't do something can make that failure come true. Self-talk heavily influences how you see yourself and how you appear to others.

Self-talk even affects health. Negative self-talk is stressful and can affect everything from your immune system to your emotional state. For example, if your self-talk tends to be negative, you probably spend a lot more time feeling tense, worried, angry, sad or depressed than someone whose self-talk tends to be more positive.

On the other hand, the benefits of positive self-talk have long been noted as a path to wellness as well as success. For example, successful athletes, performers, and leaders all understand the value of positive self-talk and using that self-talk to rehearse for a successful experience.

Four Ways to Manage the Inner Voices

Don’t Feed the Negative

Focusing on the negative self-talk is like feeding it. It just gets stronger. It’s not all bad, as it may serve as a warning about realistic dangers, but it is usually far more of an undermining factor than a help.

One of the keys to managing negative self-talk is to put negative experiences behind you. You can learn from them, but then let them go. The best athletes know to do that as do successful executives and artists. Life is full of mistakes and negative experiences – just part of the game – and you can manage them, partly by keeping them in perspective and by not feeding them.

Challenge the Negative

Negative self-talk feels realistic, but it often isn’t. It feels real because we accept it and don’t challenge it. Challenging negative thoughts can put them in perspective and you can keep them from managing you. “Oh, really? That’s not true when I really look at it.” “Thanks for sharing, now get lost.” “I’m busy, I’ll deal with you later.” “Oh yeah, let’s, look at that thought from a more realistic perspective.” “You know, I’m done with that thinking.”

Focus on the Positive

Here is where vision and voice can come into play. Envisioning yourself as successful can dramatically improve your chances of success. So can positive self-talk. It’s a matter of countering or replacing the tendency toward negative self-talk and building the practice of positive self-talk. Positive self-talk has the same impact on your thinking, feelings and actions as negative self-talk – it is real – but it puts you in a very different place. This is why envisioning success and positive self-talk is so important to successful performers, athletes and people in leadership roles. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it makes it much more likely.

Use Your Name vs. “I”

There is some research that shows that positive self-talk is more effective when a person uses their name vs. “I.” So, rather than coming up on a presentation and saying, “I can do this really well” I would say “Gordon, you can do this really well.” In a weird way, it’s as though I create a positive external voice to sneak into my inner dialogue.

So:
  • Decide which channels to pay attention to – the external voices – and which ones to discount or ignore
  • Watch your self-talk as you explore the other issues of forming an identity as a young man or woman. Confront the negative and focus on the positive self-talk – the inner voices.
  • It matters – a lot.

“It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Managing My Inner Voices - Capturing My Thoughts

Open Worksheet >

Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.

― William James

Part Two: Lots of Elements Combine To Form an Identity

What follows are sections that look at lots of elements that combine to form your identity puzzle. We will take an in-depth look at four core elements (significance, purpose, personal characteristics, and values). We will also look at ten other elements that can have a significant impact on forming a young adult identity.

Elements in an Identity

The Four Core Elements

  1. Your Significance
  2. Your Purpose
  3. Your Personal Qualities
  4. Your Values

Ten Other Important Elements

  1. Gender & Sexual Orientation
  2. Race and Ethnicity
  3. Activities & affiliations
  4. Physical appearance
  5. Capabilities
  6. Culture
  7. Religion
  8. Socio-economic status
  9. Nation/Region
  10. Politics

3. Your Sense of Significance

“I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, "aw shit, he's up!”

― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You

This might sound weird, but it is true – “You are of significance - now.” You might be of positive significance or negative significance (or a mix), but what you are not is insignificant. As a teenager, you matter – you make a difference. Now. This is a major building block in the foundation of your identity.

As a teenager, your task is to question and reflect and experiment – you discover your significance by paying attention to the questions and the answers that evolve. The heroic challenge is in looking at these questions directly and in accepting yourself as a person of significance – as a teenager, not waiting for adulthood. It is particularly useful to reflect and talk with others.

Accepting Your Significance

There will be lots of voices – some internal and some external – that will question your significance.

“If I’m not in a boy/girlfriend relationship – if I’m not a key member of a group of friends – if I’m not a star in sports or the performing arts – how can I be of significance?”

The trap to avoid is thinking that you have to save the world in order to be of significance – to matter. The reality is, that for most of us our significance will be reflected in how well we do the small things – the things that combine over time to make a difference. The challenge is to be aware of how we can make the small differences and then to make them – consistently. It’s a matter of being in the game vs. being on the sideline as spectators – waiting for something.

This is true for you as a teenager and it will be true for you throughout your adult life. If we do the little things that matter, they not only add up, but they prepare us for the big things when those opportunities arise.

Warning! Beware the “Aw Shucks” Phenomenon.

That’s when people say, “Aw shucks, I’m not really significant.” That sounds humble, but it’s really a way for people to avoid taking responsibility for their lives. It’s not bragging to say, “I am significant – I make a difference.” It’s accepting the challenge. It’s acting in small ways vs. being a bystander.

The problem is not in not doing the big things. The problem is in not doing the little things.

Surprising Ways You Can Make a Difference

Look at the sample list of characteristics and see how many of them offer the chance to be significant – to make a difference. Some of them can make a really big difference

Just for Example - You Matter if You are:

  • Kind
  • Thoughtful
  • Someone who sees the good in others
  • Supportive
  • Respectful
  • Responsible
  • A good friend, brother/sister, son/daughter, neighbor
  • A good performer/athlete/artist
  • Come up with solutions to small or large problems

You Also Matter if You:

  • Pick up litter in your school or neighborhood
  • Smile at people in school
  • Encourage someone who is struggling
  • Shop or cut the grass for a homebound neighbor
  • Volunteer
  • Step in if someone is being bullied or put down
  • Ask someone if they need help if they look confused, scared or hurt
  • Form a club or play a leadership role
  • Are a good team member
  • Bring energy
  • Do small jobs around the house or neighborhood
  • Care for someone when they are sick

These Things Make a Difference

These are just examples and only a couple of them require much training or effort - but they matter – a lot. They matter to individuals and families and they matter to schools and neighborhoods. Some may feel natural and some may feel awkward at first. Some, like stepping in when someone is being bullied, are tougher than others.

You Are of Significance When You Affect Others

It’s actually pretty surprising how many people you can affect, particularly if you are aware of how you can be of significance. The health of a school community or a neighborhood or even a family is often determined by the individual acts of their members – little consistent acts that create a culture – a set of norms that define the group.

This is a matter of being aware of the possible value that you can add in little ways – and then acting to add that value – being significant. You don’t need to prepare a lot. You just need to accept your significance and act on it.

Significance and Responsibility

One of the surprising - because it’s not obvious – tests is accepting the responsibility of being significant. “If I’m not significant, my actions don’t make much of a difference, so I really don’t have to assume much responsibility.” VS. “If I am significant, then my actions matter and make a difference (I make a difference), so I do need to take responsibility for my actions – and choose wisely.”

Ways in Which I Am Significant - Capturing My Thoughts

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I’m Struggling as a Teenager – Can I Still Make a Difference?

The really surprising thing is that you can be of significance – you can make a difference – even if you are struggling and simply trying to survive. It’s the little things that really matter. You don’t have to be on the top of your game and feeling in control of your life to make a difference.

“Few of us will do the spectacular deeds of heroism that spread themselves across the pages of our newspapers in big black headlines. But we can all be heroic in the little things of everyday life. We can do the helpful things, say the kind words, meet our difficulties with courage and high hearts, stand up for the right when the cost is high, keep our word even though it means sacrifice, be a giver instead of a destroyer. Often this quiet, humble heroism is the greatest heroism of all.”

― Wilfred A. Peterson

4. Your Sense of Purpose – Life Purpose - Or Purpose as a Teenager

This commitment is closely linked to your sense of significance and is one more piece in your identity puzzle. Thinking about what your purpose might be is another way to add to your sense of identity. It’s a natural part of the journey – and it’s important.

A Big Life Question

This is the big life question and the answer to “What is my life purpose?” may not be clear as a teenager. The question will, however, come alive during the teenage years. And yes, the key is to ask the question, not come up with an immediate and crystal clear answer that will last forever. It is very likely that your sense of life purpose will evolve with experience and it can even change dramatically at some point in your adult years.

You may also look at your purpose either as (1) your purpose as a teenager or (2) your purpose in life – or both.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

― Mark Twain

The stunning thing about this question of purpose is that people’s answers have such variety. If you asked 100 adults, you would probably get at least 90 different answers. Some might be similar, but very few would be the same. Unfortunately, you would also find a lot of adults who could not tell you what their life purpose was.

Purpose as a Teenager

Although it’s important to begin exploring your purpose in life, you can also take a much shorter view and ask, “What’s my purpose as a teenager?” You have a built-in purpose as a teenager, which is to leave your childhood and prepare yourself to be a successful young adult. That is the heroic journey of a teenager. As you get more and more experience, you might add to that built-in purpose to go beyond that core purpose.

Examples of Purpose Statements

These are examples only. Do not be restricted by these examples. They obviously come in a wide variety of focus, length and styles.

Examples of people’s life purpose:

  • “To be a powerful generative force for life” (my purpose) To have the courage to discover and accept my gifts and contribute them, adding to the universal harmonies To walk with god (to act from love and not from fear) To lead by the example of my life (intentional role model) To respond to the questions asked by life (what is life asking of me?) To be the author of a life – to be authentic

  • So life basically is a search for your soul, or whatever you could be. That’s what drives me, and makes me say every so often: “Done enough of that. Must move on. Because I don’t know what I could be.”

  • "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting " ... holy shit, what a ride!!!

  • I think we are put here on this earth in order to experience great joy and great sorrow and all the emotions in between. We are meant to take risks, to make the most out of our capabilities, and especially to leave the world a richer place than it was when we entered it. Life is a gift…..and if we don’t make the most of what we are given, then we are wasting an opportunity to experience the fullness of life’s bounty. And don’t forget to have fun along the way!!!

  • Martin Luther King said, “If I knew that tomorrow the world would fall to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” For me this means live positively and with hope, knowing that what is important is acting according to your principles, rather than caring too much about the outcome.

  • It seems to me that the purpose of my life is to grow into a more textured, loving and dimensional person.
    Each of us is born with a different hand of cards, if you will, and our purpose is to play that hand of cards as fully, intelligently and compassionately as we are able. For some people, that well-lived life will result in a Nobel Prize or exceptional professional success. For others, that well-lived life will result in beating an addiction, raising a good family or meeting some other challenge that no one else may even know. That’s why we can’t judge other people. We don’t know what hand of cards they began with, so we can’t know how far they came in their life. A waitress might be doing more with the set of tools she was given than a famous surgeon is with hers.
    I used to pray that my children would lead happy lives, but I stopped praying for that. They will have their fair share of both happiness and sadness, as we all do. I now pray that they lead full, rich and textured lives, so that when they come to the end they are able to say they lived the full human experience and put good energy into the world.

Your purpose as a teenager might simply be to:

  • “Prepare myself to be a successful young adult and support my peers in that challenge also.”
  • “Prepare myself to be a successful young adult and make a positive difference in my school/neighborhood/community.”
  • “Prepare myself to be a successful young adult and promote social justice/racial equality or protect the environment/endangered species.”
  • To survive being a teenager

Remember – these are only examples. Don’t be restricted by them. There is no “right answer”

There are lots of possibilities, but you are the author, so it’s your choice. It’s very possible that you will go through a bunch of purpose statements before you find one that really fits for you. That’s fine. Remember, the identity challenge is to explore and commit and the exploration may take time as well as some interesting twists.

Purpose When Going Through a Really Tough Time

It’s not unusual as a teenager to hit a time where life gets tough. You can be having trouble at home, with friends, going through a breakup of a romantic relationship, struggling at school or on a team, dealing with an illness or injury, etc.

At those times your purpose might be to simply get through the tough time and use the experience as a way to become more resilient, wiser, more self-aware and tougher. For some teenagers, their purpose at certain times can be as simple as, “Survive and escape my current surroundings.”

But there is suffering in life, and there are defeats. No one can avoid them. But it's better to lose some of the battles in the struggles for your dreams than to be defeated without ever knowing what you're fighting for.

― Paul Coelho

What Does Your Life Purpose Look Like in Action?

When a life purpose really starts to have meaning and gets practical is when you ask the question, “So if I’m following my life purpose or my purpose as a teenager, how do my actions look in the different parts of my life?” There are a surprising number of parts or domains of a life, for example:

  • With family (including extended family)
  • In school
  • With friends
  • With girlfriend/boyfriend
  • At school
  • At your job
  • On your team
  • In your club/organization
  • In your neighborhood or larger community
  • In volunteer settings

How My Purpose Plays Out in My Life - Capturing My Thoughts

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"Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills -- against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence... Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation...

It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man (or a woman) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he (or she) sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

― Robert Francis Kennedy, speech at Day of Affirmation, University of Capetown, South Africa

5. Your Personal Qualities

Discovering or acknowledging your personal qualities – and acting on them – is another piece in building the jigsaw puzzle of your identity. This is similar to discovering your purpose and how you are significant.

It is – unfortunately – rare to have someone take you aside and lay out what they see as your personal qualities. Sometimes it happens, but rarely. These qualities are yours to discover anyway, so let’s look at the challenge.

Discovering Your Personal Qualities

One key part of the foundation of an identity is the image we have of ourselves – what we see as our personal characteristics that combine to form that image. Because you haven’t lived that long there is often the sense that “I’m not really much yet – I’m still mostly a kid.” For the vast majority of teenagers – even though it might feel that way, it just isn’t true. You already have developed a set of personal qualities.

For example, if you skim the list of sample characteristics below and see which characteristics apply to you, you may be surprised. People don’t usually give much thought to their qualities – or they discount them as not being that important - and that’s a mistake.

You almost certainly have a lot of good qualities – more than you probably think. The challenge is to become aware of and build on your strengths and commit to areas of growth. You may find a bunch of qualities that you want to get good at – that’s part of the journey – there is always more to discover and master.

Examples of Personal Qualities

  1. Kind
  2. Smart
  3. Thoughtful
  4. Tough
  5. Gentle
  6. Curious
  7. Someone who perseveres – I don’t give up
  8. Resilient – can bounce back
  9. A smart risk taker
  10. A person with a good sense of humor
  11. Someone who sees the good in others
  12. Courageous (little or big ways – overcome fears to act
  13. A good athlete
  14. A good dancer
  15. A good singer

  1. A good actor
  2. A good artist
  3. A good storyteller
  4. A good joke teller
  5. Helpful
  6. Supportive
  7. Someone who stands up for what’s right
  8. A good writer
  9. Respectful
  10. Responsible
  11. A good listener
  12. A good care-taker
  13. A good friend
  14. A good son/daughter
  15. A good brother/sister
  16. A good student

My Personal Qualities - Capturing My Thoughts

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Pitfalls in Assessing Personal Characteristics

Pitfall #1 – Not Being Perfect

There are always gaps between who we are and our ideal self, but that’s much of what life is about. It’s why we go through multiple heroic journeys. We become increasingly whole, mature and capable – if we are paying attention and keep saying “yes” to personal development. This is true throughout life.

The wonderful thing about saints is that they were human. They lost their tempers, got hungry, scolded God, were egotistical or impatient in their turns, made mistakes and regretted them. Still they went on doggedly blundering toward heaven.

― Phyllis McGinley

You don’t have to be the kindest, toughest or most resilient person in the world to check off those characteristics. Nor do you have to be the best athlete, writer or friend to realize that those qualities live in you.

Pitfall #2 – A Couple of Dominating Characteristics

A lot of characteristics go into composing an identity. A big danger is allowing one or two characteristics – good or bad – to define your identity. There is a danger in allowing one or two negative characteristics – “I’m overweight” or “I’m awkward in social settings” – to define you. It’s also dangerous to allow one or two positive characteristics – “I’m a star athlete” or “I’m one of the smartest in my class” to define you.

Remember - the Journey Is About Growing & Developing

You can act with more awareness every day and therefore be more true to yourself – your qualities. Which of my qualities do I want to pay attention to today? Which qualities do I want to deepen? What qualities do I not show as much as I would like and how can I develop those? What characteristics do I not yet have and how can I start to develop them? This is a life-long quest (hopefully) and it becomes critical as a teenager.

Building on My Personal Qualities - My Personal Qualities in Action - Capturing My Thoughts

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“Nothing is easier than saying words. Nothing is harder than living them day after day."

― Arthur Gordon

6. Your Values

You will come to your teenage years with beliefs and values, but the natural challenge on the teenage journey is to challenge them given your new mental capabilities and awareness of the world around you - and drive to become your own person. This doesn’t mean a wholesale rejection of childhood beliefs and values. We usually keep most of the key beliefs and values, but can add some new ones, and let some go. The critical point is that they become truly your beliefs and values and can then guide you and support you in life.

It may not be a straight path as there is often a lot of experimenting and testing and confusion, which can last for quite a while.

Sometimes we reject a belief or value and then later recommit to it. Remember, it’s a journey and the key is to reflect and explore and test.

Two Natural Pitfalls

The heroic journey is about being the author of your life – taking responsibility for creating your life. That means critically examining all the values that swirl around you and determining which ones are right for you and which ones are not. That can be tough when you decide that some of your values are not exactly those of people or groups that are important to you.

Pitfall #1 – Just Accepting Others’ Values

Lots of people have values that influence you. That’s just the way the world works. Your parents have values. Your faith community has values. Your neighborhood and nation have values. Your school has values. Teams that you are on or organizations of which you are a part have values.

These values may be similar or there may be a good deal of conflict between them. These values may be forcefully presented to you or they may simply exist in your world and exert less direct influence. Usually it’s a mix.

The pitfall is in simply accepting these values without asking if they are right for you. Many of them will be right for you. Some will not be right for you and it can be intimidating to adopt values that are different than those around you.

Pitfall #2 – Just Rejecting Others’ Values

The other pitfall is the opposite – just rejecting the values of others in your world. The classic rejection is rejecting the values of your parents because they are your parents and you need to be your own person. It’s also common to question your faith community and explore options.

Questioning and exploring is natural and healthy, but simply rejecting a set of values because they are someone else’s is a pitfall. It is not about being the author of your life and committing to a value. It is simply being reactive – reacting against a value vs. committing to one.

“Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own.”

― Bruce Lee

Things You Might Value

There is an amazing range of things that you might value. The following list is a little over the top, but it illustrates just how wide that range is – even though some of these terms are close in definition. It does show just how many things we might value about ourselves – or others. One of the worksheets asks you to identify the top 20 things you value, then the top ten and finally the top 5. That can be surprisingly hard, but it does provide an interesting profile.

  • Accountability
  • Achievement
  • Adventure
  • Ambition
  • Assertiveness
  • Attractiveness
  • Awareness
  • Beauty
  • Being the Best
  • Belonging
  • Caring
  • Charity
  • Chastity
  • Cheerfulness
  • Citizenship
  • Commitment
  • Communication
  • Community
  • Compassion
  • Competitiveness
  • Contribution
  • Control
  • Cooperation
  • Courage
  • Courtesy
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Decisiveness
  • Dependability
  • Determination
  • Discipline
  • Diversity
  • Education
  • Empathy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Entrepreneurialism
  • Excellence
  • Fairness
  • Faith
  • Family
  • Fitness
  • Forgiveness
  • Friendship
  • Fun
  • Generosity

  • Hard Work
  • Health
  • Helpfulness
  • Honesty
  • Honor
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Independence
  • Integrity
  • Intelligence
  • Intimacy
  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Leadership
  • Love
  • Loyalty
  • Making a difference
  • Open-mindedness
  • Optimism
  • Order/Organization
  • Passion
  • Patriotism
  • Perseverance
  • Popularity
  • Self-control
  • Self-reliance
  • Service
  • Simplicity
  • Spirituality
  • Spontaneity
  • Success
  • Teamwork
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Thrift
  • Trust
  • Truth
  • Recognition
  • Reliability
  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Respect
  • Risk-taking
  • Wealth
  • Winning
  • Wisdom

My Value Set - Capturing My Thoughts

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Your Values During Tough Times on the Journey

Having a good sense of your values can provide a strong foundation for weathering tough times. They can not only guide decisions and actions, but they can also remind you of why you are important – you are the carrier of values that make a difference. Tough times usually don’t last (even though they sometimes can drag on), but your set of values will. So will your sense of significance and your sense of purpose.

7. Ten Other Key Identity Factors

Beyond the core elements that we just covered are ten more factors that can further define the picture you have of yourself and the person that you project to the world around you. It should be obvious at this point that our identities are a pretty complex mix of factors.

Different people will find different importance in each of these elements.

For some people race or religion or sexual orientation will be highly important. For other people their activities, capabilities or physical appearance might be most important. For others, the ones that make the biggest difference might be politics, socio-economic status or culture. There is no right answer.

Ten Other Key Identity Factors - Overview

The Key Questions Are

  • What do these elements of my identity mean to me?
  • Which are most important to me?
  • Which do I want to explore more?

The Big Five

  • 1. Gender & Sexual Orientation
  • 2. Race and Ethnicity
  • 3. Activities & affiliations (sports, the arts, community service…)
  • 4. Physical appearance
  • 5. Capabilities

Five More Important Elements

  • 6. Culture
  • 7. Religion
  • 8. Socio-economic status
  • 9. Nation/Region
  • 10. Politics

The Big Five

1. Gender & Sexual Orientation

This can be a confusing element in identity. This is a realm undergoing a great deal of change, including the terms used, so we will keep it very simple here and you can explore more if you like.

Gender is basically biological – male, female or intersex. Sexual orientation is basically about who you are sexually or romantically attracted to – males, females or both. Gender identity is how you see yourself in those regards.

The nature of your sexual activity can also be major factor in identity – sexually active or not, one partner or serial partners, etc. The realm of sex in all its parts is a central part of identity and worth the effort to understand what it means to you.

As with most of the elements in identity, social perception can play a big role so be careful to not let others’ perceptions color your own self-perception too much.

2. Race and Ethnicity

These terms are often used interchangeability, but there is a difference. Race is more oriented toward biology (particularly skin color) and ethnicity relates to culture. These elements can be a major factor in a person’s identity, sometimes too great a factor. They can have a major impact on both a teenager’s self-perception and the social perception of the world around them. Lots of assumptions are made about different races and ethnicities.

For teens whose race or ethnicity is not that of the dominant culture (for example white European in the US), these factors can be particularly important. Questions arise about how to fit in, what characteristics of the dominant culture seem right for his or her identity, etc.

3. Activities & Affiliations (sports, the arts, community service…)

Organizations and groups with which you affiliate can have a strong influence on your identity – or little at all. Affiliations can be with teams, gangs, clubs, cliques, organizations, - just a wide variety of groups. Affiliations can also be with significant individuals. The importance of these activities and affiliations can vary significantly from teenager to teenager and from year to year.

4. Physical Appearance

This is a tough one, particularly for girls. Physical appearance plays way too big a role in teen identity, but that is a common reality and it is often tough to get past that. If you don’t match the ideal physical appearance in your culture, it’s easy to feel diminished. The two problematic thoughts are: “I am too…” and “I am not ….. enough” “

On the other hand, if you do match the desired physical appearance it can be dangerous as you can rely too much on that for your identity and miss developing the other factors in your identity.

There is so much change going on physically during the teenage years that this identity factor can have a negative impact at some points and a positive one at others. People mature physically at different rates and that can be a tough issue if you are developing later than your peers. This is particularly powerful in early adolescence and less so in later adolescence and adulthood.

Capabilities

Capabilities are often overlooked, yet they are surprisingly important. In early adolescence, teenagers are faced with a daunting set of competencies to build to be able to deal well with being a young adult. It’s easy to feel not very capable in the face of that challenge, but capabilities can grow pretty fast and they don’t have to be big grand capabilities.

There are capabilities that are school related and capabilities that are not. The section on the core challenge of building competencies can provide a pretty good picture of the range of capabilities that you can pay attention to. And remember, you don’t have to be the best at something to feel capable. Two good questions are: “I am someone who is capable of …” “I am becoming more and more capable of…”

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There are capabilities that are school related and capabilities that are not. The section on the core challenge of building competencies can provide a pretty good picture of the range of capabilities that you can pay attention to. And remember, you don’t have to be the best at something to feel capable. Two good questions are: “I am someone who is capable of …” “I am becoming more and more capable of…”

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The Personal Challenge - Putting the Identity Puzzle Together

The teen years are where we really start exploring this “who am I?” question, but it will be a question that can guide us throughout our lives and we often find that the answers change as we grow and have more and more experiences.

A big part of the teen heroic journey is discovering who you are – your gifts, your values, what matters to you, what you like about yourself and what you want to change or develop. Who am I in the world? Who am I in my relationships with family, friends, romantic relationships, my community, my possible futures, etc.?

It’s Asking the Questions that Matters

The best approach is to relax and be curious – pay attention and talk with others. The answers will come. Putting your identity puzzle together takes time – it is a journey and sometimes a long one. Your sense of identity will grow and evolve.

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

― Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

You Have an Identity in Two Worlds - the Physical and Digital Worlds

In terms of identity, we now live in a physical world and increasingly in a digital world (internet/social media). Almost everything that follows about forming an identity applies to both worlds, so these basics can be trusted.

It’s best to focus on the physical world and then determine how the digital world applies. Digital identities are important and becoming more so. However, identity starts with you and your physical world and extends to the digital. It may not always feel that way, but that is the healthy way. In other words, figure yourself out and then project yourself. The reality is that you will figure yourself out partly online, so it’s not a hard boundary. It just works better to focus on the physical world.

Many of the issues relating to your digital world will be directly addressed in the section on your personal brand, but everything follows here feeds directly into that.

What Do I Need to Know & Do on this Journey?

Knowledge is power. Understanding what to expect on the path of developing the range of more mature relationships makes a tremendous difference in the experience – and the outcomes. You will also find interactive worksheets that allow you to capture your thoughts for most of these topics.

Inner Voices that Influence

Knowledge is power. Knowledge is power. Understanding what to expect on the path of developing the range of more mature relationships makes a tremendous difference in the experience – and the outcomes. You will also find interactive worksheets that allow you to capture your thoughts for most of these topics.

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Outer Voices that Influence

Knowledge is power. Knowledge is power. Understanding what to expect on the path of developing the range of more mature relationships makes a tremendous difference in the experience – and the outcomes. You will also find interactive worksheets that allow you to capture your thoughts for most of these topics.

  • List icons
  • can be used
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  • in lists

Inner Voices that Influence

Knowledge is power. Knowledge is power. Understanding what to expect on the path of developing the range of more mature relationships makes a tremendous difference in the experience – and the outcomes. You will also find interactive worksheets that allow you to capture your thoughts for most of these topics.

  • List icons
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KEEP THE TOUGH TIMES IN PERSPECTIVE ON THIS JOURNEY

Parents have to let go and you have to take on responsibility. Neither is easy to do, so this is rarely an easy transition. This is a dance that is often not very graceful because it is just tough to get the timing right and for each party to take the risks and learn and change. Lots of toes get stepped on and frustration can get pretty intense at times. The challenge may be common, but every family will be different. It’s great when the new relationship starts to take shape and parents can relax and teenagers can feel good about being more in charge.

It’s Asking the Questions that Matters

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There are Four Keys to Success

As with the Identity and Competency challenges, the key to being successful with relationships is to follow four principles:

1. Face the Challenge Directly
The challenge to form new more mature relationships with a bunch of people, most of whom are trying to find their own way and changing rapidly, will be there by definition. Your power is based on directly engaging with the challenge.

Who I am - Elements of "Me"

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Teen Heroic Journey
Challenge #2 Building Relationships

Introduction:

WHAT WILL I FIND HERE?

There are three levels of detail here:
1. A brief outline of what you need to know and do on the journey
2. A summary of each topic in the outline
3. A bigger section with more details for each topic, including ways to apply what you learn

So, you can take in the outline at a glance and see what interests you. You can check the summary to get a picture of each topic. And you can go into more detail and use the questions and tools that help you apply each topic to your experience.

“The Weird Challenge – Finding the fit with others when everyone is changing”

This is often the toughest of the three big challenges because it can just get so weird and unpredictable - and involve such strong emotions and so many people. The relationship challenge is definitely a rollercoaster experience with lots of ups and downs. The ups can be wonderful and exciting. The downs can be confusing, disheartening and depressing.

Remember, it’s a pretty long journey and you will develop your relationships and your relationship skills over time. It takes time. It takes experience. It takes being resilient. And it takes courage.

What’s in This Chapter?

We will look at the following topics that provide the heart of the relationship challenge. Each has information as well as “worksheets” where you can capture your thinking on the topic.

  • Relationships with Parents
  • Relationships with Peers
  • Romantic Relationships
  • Sexual Relationships
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Three Relationship Competencies
  • Networking and Building a Web of Relationships
  • Relationship Pitfalls

There are Four Keys to Success

As with the Identity and Competency challenges, the key to being successful with relationships is to follow four principles:

1. Face the Challenge Directly
The challenge to form new more mature relationships with a bunch of people, most of whom are trying to find their own way and changing rapidly, will be there by definition. Your power is based on directly engaging with the challenge.

2. Be the author and act
, even when unsure about what actions to take. The central challenge of the heroic journey is saying “yes” to the journey and becoming the author (as much as possible) of the experience.

3. Get support from others and support others.
Heroes don’t ever go alone in the myths (and succeed) and we don’t either in taking on our life challenges. We need support from others and we can also support others on their journey.

4. Persevere through the setbacks, disappointments and tough times.
Because it’s a rollercoaster, there will naturally be some tough times, setbacks and disappointments – for everyone. That’s just the way it works. Staying engaged with the challenge and refusing to give in or give up is essential. That’s actually where a great deal of your growth will happen.

Four Forms of Courage Are Required

Each of the four keys to success relies on courage. Courage is the central characteristic that provides the foundation for all of our other qualities. Courage is not the lack of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear.

  1. The courage to face the challenge and all the tests directly
  2. The courage to take responsibility for your life and be the author
  3. The courage to rely on others
  4. The courage to “hold the course” and never give up

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes over night. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”

― Eleanor Roosevelt

There are Two Complicating Issues

There are two big complicating issues that make this challenge particularly difficult.

Moving Targets

You’re changing. Your friends are changing. Your parents are changing how they relate to you. Relationships are about fit and sometimes, because of all the changing going on, it is tough to find a good fit with others. It’s not because you are lacking – it’s because the fit isn’t there. Also, where there was a fit and a good relationship, all of a sudden the fit is no longer there as one or both partners change. This moving target issue is one of the two biggest problems in forming – and keeping – good relationships during the teen years.

Skills & Experience

The other big problem is that these new more mature teenage relationships – whether with parents, peers or romantic relationships - require skills and experience that almost no one has when they become a teenager. Experience – obviously – only comes with experience over time. Relationship skills have to be developed as not many people are naturals. It’s not easy to be consistently successful with forming and maintaining issues until you get a base of experience and develop your relationship skills. That takes time and attention.

What Do I Need to Know & Do About Relationships On the Journey?

Knowledge is power. Understanding what to expect on the path of developing the range of more mature relationships makes a tremendous difference in the experience – and the outcomes. You will also find interactive worksheets that allow you to capture your thoughts for most of these topics.

Table of Contents:

Summary

These paragraphs will give you a good picture of what you can find in each of the topics in this section. If you skim through the summary, you will get a good idea of what the challenge of developing a web of increasingly mature relationships is about – and you can choose which parts of are interest to you.

Part One: Relationships with Parents

1. Makeovers and Moving Targets

This is always a tricky relationship as it requires major changes from a young child/parent relationship to a young adult/parent relationship. You have to separate from your parents as a child and develop a new relationship – and they have to do the same from their perspective. ...Read More

2. The Central Challenge – parents letting go of control and teenagers taking on responsibility

Parents have to let go and you have to take on responsibility. Neither is easy to do, so this is rarely an easy transition. This is a dance that is often not very graceful because it is just tough to get the timing right and for each party to take the risks and learn and change. Lots of toes get stepped on and frustration can get pretty intense at times. The challenge may be common, but every family will be different. It’s great when the new relationship starts to take shape and parents can relax and teenagers can feel good about being more in charge. ...Read More

"Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories."

― John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)

Part Two: Peer Relationships

3. More Moving Targets – And they are moving faster

These relationships are usually the relationships that are the most important and they come in so many different ways that it’s hard to capture them. Teenage relationships are deeper and more challenging and more rewarding than childhood relationships, which usually revolved around activities.

Because everyone is experimenting with who they are and what they want in a relationship as well as what they might be bringing, it is hard to find the right fit – and to keep that fit for very long. ...Read More

You can have trouble with friendships even if you are a very worthy friend, simply because others are changing so much or so often. This is the moving target phenomenon.

4. Relationships and the Heroic Journey

With peer relationships almost every element of the heroic journey comes into play. You leave the known world of relatively simple childhood relationships and go forth into all the unknown and tests of the world of young adult relationships. You have the three main tests – letting go of old childhood types of relationships, discovering how to form deeper relationships and dealing with that feeling of “inbetweenity.”

In the myths the hero never goes alone. Just as the heroes in myths, you need to find people who can be guides, helpers, healers and companions. You find them in your web of relationships – and they may change over the course of your journey. You will also encounter people who will hurt you, lead you astray, compete with you, undermine you or just be indifferent.

One of the interesting questions with peer relationships is not only what roles they might play in your journey, but what roles are you playing in the journeys of others?

Along the way you will need to take risks to connect with others and you will have successes and breakthroughs as well as setbacks and disappointments. Some relationships and relationship skills will fall into place and others will seem to stay just out of reach. This is where the ability to persevere comes into play. ...Read More

5. If You’re Struggling With Relationships

If you are struggling with relationships, you are a member of the largest club in the world. Pretty much everyone struggles with relationships during the teen years. That is partly because there are so many relationships in play – from relationships with parent to those with peers to those with girl/boyfriends.

Relationships with parents must change, relationships with peers are more mature than childhood relationships and romantic relationships are new. And everyone is a moving target because everyone is changing at the same time, so finding the right “fit” is often tough – and relationships are about “fit.”

Because all that is going on, it’s important to not beat yourself up if your relationships aren’t where you want them to be. The struggle may have little to do with your personal qualities, social skills or even mistakes that you have made. The best approach is to simply learn from the experiences you have and keep moving forward. Teen relationships are just tough. ...Read More

Part Three: Romantic Relationships

6. More Moving Targets – And they are moving faster

Romantic relationships are new in the teenage years and unlike any before. They can be wonderful, intense, scary, frustrating, mysterious – and like the other relationships, they are a matter of fit with everyone trying to figure it out. There are so many questions – What do I want? What does he or she want? What do I have to offer? How do we make decisions? Is arguing OK? How do we communicate? How do I end a romantic relationship and what do I do if he or she ends it? And more....Read More

7. The Benefits

There are quite a lot of benefits in being in a healthy romantic relationship. They range from feeling connected and not alone, receiving affection, and feeling accepted to increased self-esteem, a more developed sense of sexual identity and increasing autonomy from parents. You also can learn a great deal, such as how to give and receive, how to care for another, how to listen and share feelings, learning how to manage strong emotions and the development of key interpersonal skills....Read More

8. The Barriers and Pitfalls

There is also a number of natural barriers and pitfalls that come with romantic relationships. One is simply that these are a new kind of relationship and you just don’t have experience to rely on, so there is a lot of unknown and the anxiety or nervousness that comes with it. Emotions will be stronger and that can be a challenge. And you will sometimes just be awkward, which is hard to tolerate.

When romantic relations don’t work out, the motions can be painful, including anger, a sense of loss or depression. Self-doubt or a loss of self-worth can also creep in. Some big common pitfalls are restricting your web of friendships, doing things you don’t want to do or giving up who you are to be in a romantic relationship. ...Read More

9. Age Differences

Every teenager is different, but there are some patterns that play out in a general way. For example, early relationships may be more focused on having fun, having someone to do things with, or fitting in. Relationships may be one-on-one or in groups. Early relationships may not be as long lasting, partly because people are experimenting so much and partly because of the natural lack of experience and relationship skills. It’s simply very new.

Later relationships start to focus more on closeness, sharing and confiding and the rapid development of interpersonal skills. These relationships are often longer lasting and can become the centerpiece of a social world....Read More

10. Types of Romantic Relationships – Attraction – Closeness - Commitment

One way to look at relationships is to look at three characteristics that can combine in different ways. A crush or infatuation would have the exciting attraction without the closeness or commitment – although closeness and commitment can grow over time. Closeness and commitment without the exciting attraction would characterize close or best friends. Of course, a best friend relationship can evolve into a romantic relationship. Romantic love includes all three characteristics. ...Read More

11. Endings

Most romantic relationships in the teenage years end – mostly because everyone is changing so much and relationships are about a good fit. When one partner changes more or differently than the other partner, the relationship may no longer work and will need to end. That is a painful, but ultimately healthy outcome. Plus, the lack of experience and interpersonal skills can be hard on a relationship.

The key in the ending of a romantic relationship is to avoid diminishing your partner or being diminished. If ending a relationship, it is important to be direct, do it in person, be firm – and get support in doing it well, particularly if you are ending an abusive relationship.

There are a bunch of things you can do if you are “dumped.” They range from accepting it and being realistic about whether it’s just a lack of fit or there were things you could have done differently to connecting with family and friends for support, engaging in activities you enjoy and reflecting on your strengths and qualities. It happens to almost everyone and it hurts, but it doesn’t need to do damage – and it can prepare you for more successful relationships. ...Read More

Part Four: Characteristics of Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships

12. Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

There are a number of characteristics that can tell you if you are in a good relationship – and characteristics that you can strive for in the relationships you develop. You can even work together with people with whom you are relationship to create these characteristics for yourselves....Read More

13. Characteristics of Unhealthy Relationships

There are also characteristics that can tell you when you are in a bad relationship. And, of course, relationships can have a mix of good and bad characteristics, which can make things confusing. Having a set of good and bad relationship characteristics can help you develop a poor relationship. There are also some guidelines about how to get out of a bad relationship that isn’t improving....Read More

Part Five: Sex & Relationships

14. Be the Author – Your Choices – Your Responsibility

Whether or not to have sex – and when – is your choice. You are the author. You have the power and the responsibility – unless you give it away. Don’t give it away. The choice should be for you – what’s best for you at the time.

There are good things about sex – it’s exciting, it can bring you closer and it can help you mature. There are also dangers, such as causing problems in the relationship, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

The pressure can sometimes be intense and there are often a bunch of voices trying to influence you one way or the other – from your romantic partner and peers to family and your culture. It is your voice that matters the most....Read More

15. Guiding Questions for Making Good Choices

“Are you prepared and is it the right time with the right person for the right reasons?” There are a bunch of questions that you and your partner can ask yourselves to help answer those questions. Some questions you want to answer “yes”, for example, “Do we really trust each other and can we be open and honest with each other?” “Do I feel able to say ‘no’ at any time if I change my mind?” “Are we both sober?”

There are also questions where the answer needs to be “no”, for example, “Do I feel under pressure from anyone?” “Will I have regrets afterward?” “Am I thinking of having sex just to keep my partner?”

And there are some traps, for example a partner saying, “If you loved me, you would have sex with me.” Or, “Everyone else is doing it, why won’t you?” There are four common traps and there are ways to counter them. ...Read More

16. Why Wait?

There are lots of good reasons to wait to have sex, for example just not feeling ready, wanting to avoid the risk of pregnancy or STDs, feeling that sex would violate family or religious values, being unsure of the relationship, etc. In 2015 41% of high school students had had sexual intercourse and 58% of seniors had been sexually active, so “not everyone does it.” ...Read More

Part Six: Emotional Intelligence & Relationship Competencies

17. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand and manage emotions in order to relate effectively with others – to communicate, solve problems, provide support, etc. EQ affects how you feel, what you think and how you act. It is about understanding your own emotions, managing those emotions, understanding the emotions of those around you and determining how to respond.

Some people come by EQ naturally, but most of us (particularly boys) have to work at it and develop it just like mastering a sport or a new language. It’s worth the effort because it affects everything from your relationships and your health to your ability to perform in school or at work. This is a big deal. ...Read More

"It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head--it is the unique intersection of both."

― David Caruso

18. Relationship Competencies – The Big Three

As with most things, developing good relationships relies on having some competencies. Some you will naturally have and some you will need to develop. These are competencies that, hopefully, you will continue to develop throughout life. Remember that this is a journey and part of the journey is developing these competencies. And all of your peers are facing the same challenge....Read More

  1. Communicating out to people
  2. Active listening
  3. Conflict resolution and problem solving

Part Seven: Connections – Webs – Networks

19. Webs of Relationships – inner circle and outer circle(s)

There are a surprising number of relationships that we can have, although a few will probably dominate our thinking. It’s important, however, to see the whole picture of this web of relationships because it can enrich our lives and provide a sense of connection that can weather the storms of teenage relationships. One way to think about this is having an inner circle of closer relationships and an outer circle of relationships that might be significant, but not as close as the inner circle. In either case, the key is to pay attention to the relationships and take the responsibility to develop them. This is a life-long skill that will always matter....Read More

20. “Networking”

Networking is a key aspect of success in business, communities, the military, etc. It will be important throughout your adult life and it can make a tremendous difference for you as a teenager. Networking is essentially about taking the initiative to make connections with people and maintain them. Some connections will be close relationships and really important and some will be less close and not as important.

What is important, however, is reaching out and connecting to a bunch of people. When you do that and create a network it is amazing what can happen in your life. Good things often seem to come out of nowhere – you don’t see them coming, but you can then see how they happened because of your network. ...Read More

Part Eight: Pitfalls

On the journey there are, of course, some pitfalls.
In terms of relationships, the biggest pitfall is giving up your identity to fit into a relationship. That’s the tough one. Another tough one is relying too much on too small a network of relationships, particularly a best friend or a boy/girlfriend. A third pitfall is simply the nature of teenage relationships where everyone is changing at the same time – the moving target problem. The danger is feeling like an undesirable friend or girl/boyfriend when the problem is others experimenting in different directions.

21. The Tough One – Identity vs. Relationships

“How much of myself do I have to give up or hide in order to be in a relationship?” This is an issue in adulthood also, but it can be particularly tough during the teen years. This pitfall can be encountered with relationships with parents, peers, girl/boyfriends, teachers, etc. The best relationships are those where you can fully be yourself. There are others, however, where you have to hold back or downplay some aspect of who you are in order to maintain the relationship- and that’s not all bad, as it’s the way of the world. The key is to be aware of how much you are compromising and not give too much of yourself away....Read More

22. Too Small a Network/Web - or Putting Too Much Importance on a Relationship

There may be times when you have a best friend, a circle of close friends, are part of a team or group and have good relationships with your family. That’s a pretty good web of relationships.

There may be other times, given the changing nature of people and relationships in the teen years, where your web of relationships gets pretty limited – no best friend, not many people in your circle of friends or lots of changes, difficulty with family relationships and not part of a group or team. That’s actually not unusual at times for teenagers, but it can cause a good deal of anxiety, doubting of self-worth and even depression.

You may also find that you are relying almost totally on a best friend or boy/girlfriend and that can generate feelings of vulnerability and overdependence. Adolescence is a ten-year heroic journey, so assume some changes in your web or relationships and also assume that you will need to work at building and maintain that web. People will probably come and go and your web of relationships may vary from extensive and strong to limited and vulnerable. When it’s strong, don’t take it for granted and work to maintain it. When it’s weak, don’t freak out – just keep working at developing various relationships and remember that it may take time, but it will happen. ...Read More

23. Failing to Realize/Accept the Value You Bring to a Relationship

It’s much easier to take the risk to try developing new relationships when you have a good self-image, when your view of your identity is one of a person worth being in a relationship with. This is where the section on the identity challenge becomes critical.

You don’t have to be the best at everything to be worth being a partner in a relationship, but it is important to have a sense of how you are worthy. That can come from what you discovered in the sections on how you are of significance, your personal qualities, your sense of purpose and your values. It also comes from experience.

It also comes from your emotional intelligence, communication skills, empathy, curiosity, sense of humor, etc. All the pieces add up, so see what the picture looks like. ...Read More

24. Failing to be the Author: Networking & Building Your Web of Relationships

Sometimes you fall into relationships or they happen to you because others initiate them or they come with being part of a team or group. That’s always nice, but that needs to be complemented by you being the author of your life and your web of relationships – actively networking, which means establishing relationships and maintaining them. You won’t always be successful – no one is – but they key is to keep working at it and getting better and better as a friend, teammate, colleague or family member. It’s a journey and there will be ups and downs, so being the author isn’t always easy – but it’s the only way to be successful over time. ...Read More

Part One: Relationships with Parents

1. Makeovers and Moving Targets – A Heroic Journey For Everyone

From Parent-Child to Parent-Teenager to Adult–Young Adult

The parent child relationship develops over 12 years. There is consistent change, but usually nothing dramatic. All of a sudden, that changes because you went from being a child to being a teenager with the task of becoming a young adult. You can’t do that in a healthy way if the relationship stays parent-child. But what is a parent-teenager relationship supposed to look like? And how does it transition into an adult-young adult relationship?

It’s a heroic journey for everybody because everybody has to let go of the old ways, discover new ways, and live through all the “inbetweenity.”

Trying to Find a New Fit with Everyone Changing

Family relationships are almost always a challenge as relationships with parents change by definition. Parents are challenged to let go of the roles they had when you were a kid and you are challenged to step more and more into being the author of your life and taking on more responsibility. That is rarely an easy transition – for you or your parents. In fact, it frequently feels to parents and teenagers that they are in a dark room throwing themselves against the wall to find the door.

As a teenager, you are experimenting with who you are and how to relate and you are also in the process of separating from your parents in order to become your own person. Your parents are trying to figure out how to be good parents and relate to a son or daughter who is kind of a moving target as a teenager. It’s a challenge to keep forming a healthy relationship with all the parts moving (and they do have to move).

Parent-teenager relationships can be wonderful and surprising and life giving. They can also be frustrating, awkward and full of missteps. Often all those characteristics are mixed together in surprising ways.

It’s Part of the Heroic Journey

Both parents and teenagers are faced with the challenge of letting go of old ways of relating, discovering new ways of relating along with the relationship competencies required and dealing with the difficulty of being in-between the old and new ways (“inbetweenity”). That requires a lot of courage, experimentation, forgiveness and asking for forgiveness as well as negotiation and learning as you go.

2. The Central Challenge – Parents Letting Go of Control and Teenagers Taking on Responsibility

This is the central challenge for parents and teenagers during the teenage years. Parents must let go of control and make room for the teenager to take on more responsibility – becoming the author of his or her life. And teenagers must let go of being a child and being taken care of to take on the responsibility to have that kind of control over their lives. It’s not easy for either parent or teenager and the relationship competencies noted later will certainly come into play and be tested.

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”

― J.K. Rowling

Note – it’s mostly about safety.

For most parents the need for control is based on the need to keep their child safe – not just on a need to control them. So, for teenagers, the key is to find ways to demonstrate that they can keep themselves safe, which is not an easy trick given all the exploration and new territory that must be explored.

"Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body."

― Elizabeth Stone

Characteristics of This Dance

This change in relationships with parents is a difficult and often confusing dance. Knowing what to expect helps – a lot.

  • Everyone must find his or her own way on the journey – there is no formula
  • The music changes and so must the dance
  • It’s messy
  • It doesn’t go in a straight line
  • There are usually lots of missteps
  • Anxiety is high for everyone
  • There are high points and breakthroughs
  • Forgiveness is required
  • Trust is strained and leaps of faith are required
  • There is no manual for this, but there are some guidelines and tools
  • Everyone must learn the way as the journey progresses
  • The more relationship skills, the better the journey experience
  • It’s worth the struggle as the new relationship evolves – exciting freedom and responsibility for you and confidence in your safety and well-being for your parents

Four Possibilities – From High Risk to Healthy & Connected

There are basically four ways this dance of taking on responsibility and letting go of control can work out. The challenges for teens and for parents are charted below. As with all dances, this one is fluid, so assume that you will move between the boxes as you and your parents figure out the new relationship.

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.”

― Anne Frank

Part Two: Peer Relationships

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”

― Linda Grayson

3. More Moving Targets – and They Are Moving Faster

Note

The tough challenge here is how provide basic guidance when there is so much variation in people’s experience in relationships. The teen journey might have a common foundation, but everyone experiences it in their own way and developing relationships with others is no exception. So, the following information is very general and you will need to apply it to your own unique experience.

Relationships with peers during the teenage years can come and go at a dizzying pace. Peer relationships become deeper and more important, but they also become more challenging because everyone involved is growing and changing. Everybody is a moving target – experimenting, learning how to relate, discovering who they are and what they want in a relationshipF. It’s hard to make connections and keep them with all that motion. Particularly when you don’t have years of experience with mature relationships to rely on.

Some teenagers have a circle of friends that lasts for many years. Most teenagers don’t and go through several groups, multiple relationships with individual friends and have periods where they don’t feel very connected at all. Often relationships have to end or become much less important in order for the people involved to grow. That goes for groups or cliques also.

When the Relationships Don’t Develop – Feeling Unconnected

It can be extraordinarily painful when you are not well connected to others. It can not only feel bad, but cause you to doubt yourself and your desirability as a friend. That feeling of not being very connected – or connected at all – to others happens to most teenagers at one or more times and it is one of the toughest parts of being a teenager.
The key to weathering those times is to understand that it won’t last forever, that it’s a matter of the right fit not being there with everyone changing and to look at new ways to form connections – individuals to talk with, groups to join, activities to begin, etc. There is no magic solution, so you just keep moving forward and also keep building your competencies and getting more and more clear on your identity – not letting temporary relationship problems stop you in pursuing your other challenges.

"You have people come into your life shockingly and surprisingly. You have losses that you never thought you’d experience. You have rejection and you have to learn how to deal with that and how to get up the next day and go on with it."

― Taylor Swift

It’s a Rollercoaster

On the other hand, having good friends or being part of a good group is a wonderful part of being a teenager as is learning how to be a good friend. As with most of the teen journey, this is a rollercoaster with lots of ups and downs. As you (and your peers) get more experience with relationships and you develop your relationship skills, the ups become more frequent and the downs become less traumatic and less frequent. Relationships are always a rollercoaster ride, but the teenage relationships are the scariest.

4. Relationships and the Heroic Journey

With peer or girl/boyfriend relationships almost every element of the heroic journey comes into play. You leave the known world of relatively simple childhood relationships and go forth into all the unknown and tests of the world of young adult relationships.

All Three Types of Tests are Encountered

All three of the tests are frequently encountered – letting go, discovery and mastery and “inbetweenity.” There are usually lots of endings – of childhood relationships and of relationships that come and go during the teenage years. The tasks of mastering relationship skills and emotional competency are as hard as any encountered.

And there is so much “inbetweenity” with its uncertainty, doubts, confusion and anxiety – also its excitement, hope, insights and breakthroughs. This is where the roller coaster of emotions can be at its most extreme.

Heroes Never Go Alone

Just as the heroes in myths, you need to find people who can be guides, helpers, healers, role models and companions. You will need those people, partly for companionship on the journey and partly to provide guidance or healing when you run into the inevitable setbacks or injuries (physical and emotional). You find them in your web of relationships – and they may change over the course of your journey. You will also encounter people who will hurt you, lead you astray, compete with you, undermine you or just be indifferent. The competitors can strengthen you, but the others will be a challenge to deal with. Learning how to do that is part of the journey.

Along the way you will need to take risks to connect with others and you will have successes and breakthroughs as well as setbacks and disappointments. Some relationships and relationship skills will fall into place and others will seem to stay just out of reach. This is where the ability to persevere comes into play.

The teenage journey is a long journey with tough complex challenges, so the key is to persevere and not get discouraged (or let yourself be diminished) – even on the toughest days.

What Role Are You Playing in Your Peers’ Journeys? A Key Question

What roles might you play for others? This is the companion question to the roles others play in your journey. Companion, helper, role model, healer, competitor? Or enemy, someone who leads others astray or undermines them on their journeys? The first task is to ask yourself the questions.

The second task is to listen to your answers. Being conscious of the roles that you play or want to play gives you a lot of power in those relationships as it helps you be the author of the experience. This is extraordinarily important as you can develop relationships with others by focusing on what you might be able to bring to the relationship.

You can find a lot of guidance in how to play helpful roles in the journeys of your peers by looking back at the chapter on the identity challenge and particularly the section on your significance. That section focuses on the difference you can make by doing the little things. You can also look at the characteristics of a healthy relationship in this chapter to see how you might play positive roles. And you can simply ask peers how you can be a supportive companion on this shared journey.

5. If You’re Struggling With Relationships – Join the World’s Biggest Club

If you’re struggling with peer relationships you are, ironically, part of the biggest club in the world – teenagers struggling with relationships. It’s not at all comfortable and can be really painful at times, but it’s pretty normal and it doesn’t last forever. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you and it doesn’t mean that your web of relationships will always be so changeable.

Pretty much everyone struggles with relationships during the teen years. That is partly because there are so many relationships in play – from relationships with parent to those with peers to those with girl/boyfriends.

Relationships with parents must change, relationships with peers are more mature than childhood relationships and romantic relationships are new. And everyone is a moving target because everyone is changing at the same time, so finding the right “fit” is often tough – and relationships are about “fit.”

Mistakes and “Fit” – Not Inadequate or Unworthy

One of the keys is to realize that when a relationship doesn’t work, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is your fault, that you are somehow inadequate or that you have failed. Everyone makes mistakes in relationships, sometimes serious mistakes – and it’s important to take responsibility for those mistakes and learn from them. But, relationships are tough and some relationships don’t work out simply because the fit just isn’t there or people change and drift apart as their needs and interests change.

Struggling is a Natural Part of the Experience

The good news about the struggle is that it is natural and common and it doesn’t last forever. It doesn’t mean that you are failing or have no hope of success. It just means that you are on the journey and experiencing some of the toughest challenges. No one just sails through the relationship challenges of the teenage years – even if it looks like some people are.

The Quality Required is Courage – it is That Simple and That Tough

The courage to care, the courage to reach out, the courage to ask for what you want/need, the courage to ask others what they want/need, the courage to say “I’m sorry” when appropriate. It simply takes courage to go out amongst other teenagers, all trying to finds their way on the journey – courage to look at yourself and courage to reveal yourself to others to provide the ground for significant relationships. Courage is required because of the unknown and the lack of experience and sense of being prepared.

Remember

Courage is not the lack of fear or anxiety. Courage is the willingness to take the risk and go ahead despite feeling anxious or fearful.

When You Are Struggling

Keep Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

That might not sound very helpful, but it is a basic principle of succeeding on a heroic journey. It is certainly a basic principle of dealing with developing and maintaining relationships as a teenager (and beyond). There is no magic formula, no recipe, no certainty or guarantee when dealing with relationships. There is a lot of trying, experimenting, and learning from the successes, setbacks and disappointments.

The setbacks and disappointments (sometimes painful) are inevitable, but they tend to decrease as you gain experience and get to know yourself better. And the good experiences tend to increase. It may still be a rollercoaster, but with more ups and fewer downs.

There are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success. None of them is a magic solution, but taken together over time, they can make a big difference.

Pay Attention to What You Bring to a Relationship

This can come from what you discover in the section on Identity – your sense of significance (particularly doing the little things); your purpose; your personal characteristics; your values; and any of the characteristics or qualities you discover in looking at the ten other big factors in defining an identity as a young man or woman.

It can also come from developing your sense of curiosity, your ability to listen to others and show interest in them, your willingness to share your thoughts and feelings, your ability to value differences and your willingness to forgive others for small mistakes.

Join Groups

There is a surprising number of potential groups to join. Some groups you might join and stay a member for a long time. Some groups you might join and find the group is not a good fit and so you leave. Groups can be clubs, teams, performance groups, youth groups in faith communities, community organizations, etc.

“You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Get Active

This means avoiding the tendency when struggling to pull back into your room or online activities. That kind of withdrawal is OK to nurse a wound or take a short break, but not much will happen in terms of developing healthy relationships if you withdraw for too long.

Learn something

There is a lot to learn outside of school and most of that learning happens in small groups. That can range from cooking and creative writing to basic repair or construction skills – or even becoming an EMT (emergency medical technician). You will have to do some exploring, but the opportunities are out there.

Volunteer

This is a good way to get connected, learn something, gain experience in general - and give to people. As with activities, there is a very wide range of possibilities, so do some exploring and see what you can find. It may take a few attempts to find a good fit.

Persevering in Developing Relationships - Capturing My Thoughts

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Part Three: Romantic Relationships

6. Boyfriends and Girlfriends – Strange New World

Note

Developing romantic interests in others is natural part of maturing, it can be intense in wonderful and awful ways and it can begin at any point in the teen journey. This part of the adventure is driven by a combination of hormones, emotional maturity and the increasing importance of the social world. In other words, romantic love comes from hormones and the heart.

Lots of Variations

These relationships are all over the board. As with peer relationships, boy/girlfriend relationships are naturally challenged by how much everyone is changing and how little experience you have to draw upon. It’s new, so everyone is trying to figure it out, it’s confusing, exciting, scary and as in other relationships – everyone is a moving target. It’s just a strange new world.

Some teenagers develop romantic relationships early in the teen years, some develop them later and some don’t develop them until the end of the teen journey. There is no right-or-wrong time to begin to develop romantic interests.

They range from couples who come together at 15 and stay together for the rest of their lives to teenagers who have a number of romantic relationships to teenagers don’t form significant romantic relationships until after high school. In some cases, race, ethnicity, nationality, or faith communities can have a significant impact on when and how romantic relationships develop.

So Many Questions

There are lots of questions to be dealt with in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and every relationship is different. Everyone is trying to figure out who they are, who the other person is and how to create a relationship. Everyone is trying to figure out how to love and how to be loved.

What do I want in the relationship? What does he/she want? What do I have to offer? What do we do about sex? Are other relationships OK? How do we make decisions? How do we communicate with each other? Which behaviors are OK and which behaviors are not? What happens when we disagree or fight?

Who am I when I am in this relationship? What am I getting out of it? What am I learning about myself? Others? Relationships? What doors/experiences does this relationship get me? How am I changing because of this relationship?

"People are so fearful about opening themselves up. All you want to do is to be able to connect with other people. When you connect with other people, you connect with something in yourself. It makes you feel happy. And yet it's so scary - it makes people feel vulnerable and unsafe."

― Toni Collette

7. Benefits of Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships in the teen years are not just exciting, they can bring a surprising number of benefits – through experience and practice – through successes and disappointments.

Benefits of Romantic Relationships

Please Note – these benefits can also come through peer friendships, relationships with parents (yes, really), bosses, co-workers, extended family, etc. They are simply more intense in romantic relationships.

Good Feelings Experienced

  • Connection – not alone
  • Intimacy – sharing
  • Someone has my back
  • Affection
  • Companionship
  • Increasing emotional autonomy – from parents
  • Acceptance
  • Confidence
  • Self-esteem
  • Sexual identity
  • Feeling understood
  • Resilience – bouncing back from disappointment

Capabilities That Can develop

  • Learning to give and receive
  • Learning how to listen and share feelings
  • Learning how to attend to and support someone
  • Learning to ask for what you need
  • Learning to hear and give what others need
  • Learning how to manage strong emotions
  • Developing empathy
  • Building interpersonal skills
  • Learning how to manage sexual relationships (having or not having sex and having healthy sex)

8. Barriers and Pitfalls

Romantic relationships are challenging at any age and they are particularly challenging when they are a new part of life. There are a bunch of natural hurdles to overcome and pitfalls to avoid or deal with.

Natural Barriers in Teen Romantic Relationships

Knowing what these barriers are makes it easier (but not easy) to deal with them.

  • Inexperience – it’s just new
  • Fear of the unknown - inescapable
  • Awkwardness – no one comes fully equipped to deal with romantic relationships
  • Everyone is a moving target – it’s always a matter of “fit”
  • New emotional landscape – what are these feelings and what do I do with them?
  • Maintaining self-confidence and sense of worth when relationships don’t work – it’s going to happen, so the challenge is to not be diminished

Pitfalls in Romantic Relationships

As with any heroic journey, there are dangers and pitfalls and you can be injured as you find your way. They may be large or small, but they are survivable and you will get better and better at dealing with them as you gain experience.

Feelings

  • Emotional distress when things don’t go well
  • Self-doubt
  • Depression or despair
  • Loss of sense of belonging
  • Loss of sense of self-worth
  • Rejection
  • Diminished self-concept and confidence

Behaviors

  • Restricting your web of relationships (too focused on a romantic relationship) – friends and family fall away
  • Impulsive behavior – reacting without enough thought
  • Doing things you don’t want to do under pressure – to be acceptable
  • Giving up who you are to fit in – loss of authentic identity

9. Age Differences

Because adolescence is a developmental heroic journey, it is a given that you will be very different at the beginning of the journey than you will be as it progresses. That is true for romantic relationships. There is a general difference between romantic relationships in the early teens and the later teens. This doesn’t hold true for everyone, but it does in general.

Early Teens

Attractiveness is the major factor, particularly for boys. Having fun, having someone to go places with, status and fitting in tend to be central to dating. Romantic relationships might not be long-lasting even when they are intense. Girls more mature and different needs and desires than boys.

From 10-14 years, teenagers often want to spend more time in mixed gender groups, which might eventually end up in a romantic relationship. Younger teenage romantic relations may be more stressful and less supportive (provide fewer benefits), simply because everything is so new

Later Teens

Inner qualities become more important, even for boys. Closeness, sharing, confiding, having each other’s back emerge as key in romantic relationships – for young men and young women. Longer term commitments also become a greater factor in these relationships. Lots of skills in early development – emotional intelligence, communications, assertiveness, etc.

From 15-19 years, romantic relationships can become central to social life. In later adolescence there can be a shift from parents to romantic partner in who is central (time spent, support, confiding…)

10. Romantic Relationships: Attraction – Closeness – Commitment

Romantic relationships can come in all kinds of forms. One way to look at them is to pay attention to these three characteristics and the different ways they can combine. Romantic relationships usually start with attraction and grow into closeness as they mature. Commitment can follow or the relationship can be relatively short-lived. The passion may be intense in the beginning and come and go over the course of the romantic relationship, but the closeness will be consistent.

Crush or infatuation

Attraction without the closeness and commitment. May grow into romantic love or it may not. However, crushes may be so idealistic, that reality brings them to an end.

Best Friends

Closeness and commitment without the attraction. Attraction can develop.

Romantic Love

Combines all three – attraction, closeness and commitment

11. Endings

Love is delicate and there are a bunch of factors that can cause a romantic relationship to end. Remember, as teenagers everyone in a romantic relationship is a moving target and finding a fit that lasts is just not likely. Needs change and one or both partners may discover that the fit they had no longer works and the relationship needs to end – as a romantic relationship.

The loss of young first love is so painful that it borders on the ludicrous.

― Maya Angelou

That is not very easy, but endings can be thoughtfully managed to end in as caring a way as possible. That is important for the person ending the relationship as well as for the other person.

Romantic relationships can end because interests change, an attraction for another person develops, someone moves, the partners want different things out of the relationship, or it just seems that the relationship has run its course. One or both partners can reach the conclusion that it is best to end a romantic relationship.

Romantic relationships can end because interests change, an attraction for another person develops, someone moves, the partners want different things out of the relationship, or it just seems that the relationship has run its course. One or both partners can reach the conclusion that it is best to end a romantic relationship.

“Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad for that.”

― Ally Condie, Matched

The Key to Healthy Endings

The ending of an important relationship will probably be painful and stressful, but it does not need to be damaging (there is a big difference between pain and damage). The key is (a) to not diminish the other in ending the relationship and (b) not feel diminished when a relationship ends.

Basic Guidelines For Healthy Endings

There is certainly no recipe or simple formula for ending a relationship, but there are a few guidelines that can help do it as well as possible.

  • Be direct and honest – thoughtfully so
  • Do it in person – if long distance, by phone – never by text
  • Don’t waffle – be firm (don’t jerk the person around or be confusing)
  • Don’t intentionally diminish another – even if you are angry
  • Get support to do it well
  • Get lots of support if breaking out of an abusive relationship

“Getting Dumped” or Unreturned Love/Affection

Almost everyone experiences a partner ending a relationship or not having the same feelings you have, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Because one person does not share your affection or interests, does not mean that there is something wrong with you.

It’s always a question of fit – matching needs, interest, style - and that’s a tough issue with all the changing and experimenting going on. People change at different rates and in different directions.

There is no magic formula for avoiding the end of a romantic relationship or for making it easy. There are, however, some guiding principles that you can follow. They apply to almost all endings, but each ending will be experienced in a unique way. When someone ends a relationship with you, it happens to you. You didn’t choose it, but the challenge is to get into the author posture as soon as possible – do what you can do for yourself. It doesn’t take away the pain of the ending, but it can limit the pain and shorten the period of greatest distress.

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”

― C.S. Lewis

Guidelines For Recovering From An Unhappy Ending

Each of the four keys to success relies on courage. Courage is the central characteristic that provides the foundation for all of our other qualities. Courage is not the lack of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear.

  1. Accept it. Accept that it hurts and you will be sad and angry and maybe depressed. That’s part of the healing, so accept it – but set a limit on how intense and for how long.
  2. Deal with it directly. You can’t go over, under or around it – you have to go through it – or you don’t really get past it. And you certainly won’t learn anything from it if you don’t go through it - and everything you learn increases your relationship abilities.
  3. Connect or reconnect with friends and family for support. Heroes don’t go alone and dealing with the ending of an important relationship is a time for support. Sometimes it doesn’t take much support and sometimes it takes a lot.
  4. Engage in activities you enjoy (even if you don’t feel like it). This is important and sometimes you just have to do it even if you don’t really feel like it or don’t have the energy. Just do it.
  5. Reflect on your strengths and qualities. That sounds questionable when someone just ended a relationship with you, but it’s a good way to counter the almost automatic reaction that, “I’m not good enough, inadequate, missing something, etc.” You may have made mistakes or the fit may not have lasted, but you didn’t suddenly become less of a person. However, it’s easy to feel that way, so reminding yourself of who you are is a good way to get back tom a realistic view of yourself.
  6. Your identity should be so secure that when someone walks away from you, they don’t take you with them.

  7. Pull some learning out of the experience to take forward. Some of the learnings might be painful, but they can also lead to a sense of possibility or new strength. For example, you might learn that you weren’t empathetic enough or communicated poorly or didn’t pay attention to the other person’s needs. You might also learn that you refused to give up who you really are to fit into the relationship or that you didn’t let yourself be taken advantage of or abused.
  8. Remember, it happens to everyone (maybe a few really rare exceptions). This is part of the journey to adulthood and everyone is dealing with it. It didn’t happen to you because you are less desirable or competent than your peers.
  9. It hurts, but it doesn’t need to do a lot of damage and there will be other relationships. That is not to diminish the sense of loss, but to keep it in a realistic perspective – hurt and hope can co-exist. There is a big difference between pain and damage. Endings are painful, but they don’t need to do damage. One of the reasons to deal directly with the ending of a romantic relationship is to limit any damage, gain the benefits of what can be learned and be prepared for - and open to - the next relationship.
  10. "When one door closes, another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

    ― Alexander Graham Bell

Part Four: Healthy & Unhealthy Relationships

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”

― William Shakespeare

12. Ten Characteristics of Healthy Relationships

There are lots of ways to portray the characteristics of a good relationship. Feel free to augment or refine this list if you like. Not all good relationships have all of these characteristics all of the time, nor are all of them of equal strength or importance in a particular relationship. These characteristics are relevant for friendships as well as girlfriend/boyfriend relationships. They are the building blocks in the foundation of relationships.

  1. Mutual Respect. Respect can be in regard to opinions, emotions, beliefs, values and differences in general. It can also relate to personal boundaries/space, including touching and other sexual behaviors. In respectful relationships partners do not diminish (put down) one another in front of others or privately. In respectful relationships partners also accept each other as they are, even though they may challenge and support each other in growing.
  2. Mutual Trust. Trust is a two-way street – it means making the leap to trust another as well as behaving in trustworthy ways. “I choose to trust you until you show me that I can’t.” “I will act in consistently trustworthy ways.” Sometimes trust is violated, even in the best of relationships. If it’s not a pattern or too big a violation, you can usually recover from such a screw-up and even build a stronger relationship. That doesn’t hold true if the violations continue.
  3. Honesty/Genuineness. No lying, including by omission. Being honest also requires knowing what you are thinking and feeling and being able to communicate that. This takes the courage to put yourself out there, which is a deceptively tough challenge requiring more courage than you might think. Do you know where each other stand? Are each person’s characteristics and behaviors consistent (or do you not know what to expect from day to day or week to week)? Being honest and genuine doesn’t mean that you can’t keep some things private.
  4. Equality. This has a lot to do with power, which is a key issue in relationships. Both partners have an equal say in decision-making. Each partner’s needs and desires matter. Power and decision-making is shared. You have the same standards for each other. Equality doesn’t mean keeping every little thing in balance all the time because there is a rhythm to relationships, but it does mean making sure that there is a general balance of equality.
  5. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    ― Maya Angelou

  6. Appreciation/ Positive Approach/Fun. People clearly value each other and express that. People in the relationship are open to feeling appreciated by the other (that’s surprisingly tough sometimes). You celebrate each other’s accomplishments – large or small. Partners bring a positive approach to life and the friendship. There is fun and enjoyment in the relationship.
  7. Security/Safety. This is a basic foundation for relationships. Each person feels safe from physical, emotional, sexual or other forms of abuse. It is safe to be fully present in the relationship, sharing hopes and fears, interests and needs, thoughts and emotions, doubts, etc. You can be yourself in the relationship. The relationship is a safe haven from the stresses of life.
  8. Emotional Competence. Being emotionally competent means being aware of your own emotions and being able to manage those emotions. It means you can manage your emotions without just “dumping” them and expecting others to deal with them. You can deal with conflicts and disagreements peacefully and creatively. In healthy relationships empathy is practiced – being aware of others’ experience and aware of your impact on them through behaviors (or lack of). In healthy relationships anger is managed and is neither too frequent nor too intense.
  9. Communication. There is so much to communication. You share your own thoughts and feelings and show an active interest in others. You talk openly about problems, hear each other out, respect differing needs or opinions and find ways to compromise – to meet as many of each other’s interests as possible. Really listening is a key element in the relationship. Listening is a very strong indication of interest and caring and it is a powerful connector.
  10. “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”

    ― Henry Winkler

  11. Separate Lives. This is not an “either/or” issue. The strongest and most resilient relationships are those where partners also have significant separate lives. You enjoy spending time apart and you have an individual sense of identity. You enjoy each other’s company, but also enjoy other relationships and activities. In fact, the parts of your lives that are separate enrich the experience you have together.
  12. Mutual Support & Growth. You make each other better people. You challenge each other to be your best and support each other when doubting, injured, sick, scared or under a lot of stress. You know the other “has your back.” You also encourage each other to try new things, to be curious, to stretch.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.”

― Muhammad Ali

Learning and Developing

Building and maintaining good relationships is a life-long challenge and as teenagers it can be pretty uneven in terms of developing these characteristics. Wherever you are in your relationships, build from there. For example, if you review a relationship, you will probably see characteristics that are right where you want them as well as seeing characteristics that need work. Just appreciate what you have already built and focus on two-three characteristics that you would like to build. “How can I be a better friend?” “How can we build a better relationship?”

“I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don't take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff.”

― Jon Katz

Screw-Ups

We all make mistakes in relationships, so a mistake, stumble or even an infrequent lashing out in frustration or anger should not necessarily mean that a relationship isn’t a good one. An ongoing pattern of poor behaviors, however, would mean that it is a questionable relationship.

Where there are screw-ups, it is always important in recovering to take responsibility for the screw-up, ask forgiveness and commit to avoiding that screw-up in the future. It is also important to be ready to forgive – in good relationships, not in abusive ones.

13. Characteristics of Unhealthy Relationships - Warning Signs Your Partner’s Behavior

“Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.”

― Les Brown

Not surprisingly, these characteristics are often the opposite of good relationships. To be more specific, however, you are in a bad relationship if very many of the following are true.

Note. The difference between a bad relationship and an abusive relationship can be a matter of either the number or intensity of unhealthy behaviors that characterize the relationship. It is an abusive relationship if the characteristics include physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

  1. He constantly checks up on you, including looking at your phone, asking friends about you, quizzing you
  2. She won’t let you talk with other girls
  3. He lies to you
  4. She threatens to hurt herself or others if you don’t do as required or try to break up
  5. He loses his temper quickly or easily and shows big mood swings
  6. She keeps you away from your friends
  7. He pressures you into behaviors you don’t want to do, including sexual activity, drug/alcohol use or other risky behaviors
  8. She does things that scare you or hurt you – or others (including animals)
  9. She puts you down in front of others – or even when you are alone
  10. He holds you back in activities you care about (school, sports, performing arts, community activities)
  11. She tries to change you, not accepting who you are
  12. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

    ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Warning Signs – Your Thoughts and Behaviors

You can also pay attention to your own experience – what you are thinking or feeling.

  1. You find yourself increasingly less confident in yourself
  2. You are spending less and less time with friends, family or in your normal activities
  3. Your appearance, emotions, grades or other performance indicators have changed significantly since the relationship started.
  4. You worry a lot about how they will react to things you say or do
  5. You feel that your needs and desires come second – or aren’t valued at all
  6. You hesitate to express your thoughts and feelings
  7. Others warn you about this person or group
  8. The emotions expressed towards you are mostly negative – angry, blaming, putdowns, disappointment
  9. You are starting to mistrust your own judgments
  10. Your sense of your own worth is declining
  11. You feel like a possession
  12. "Never allow someone else to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option "

    ― Mark Twain

Part Five: Sex & Relationships

14. Be the Author – Your Choices – Your Responsibility

Whether to have sex or not – and when – is your choice and you have the responsibility and power. The choice should be for you – what’s best for you. Of all the issues around having sex, this is the heart of it. You are the author of your life. It is what the heroic journey is about and it is what being a teenager is about.

Your Choice Can Change Your Life

Sex can change your life and relationships. Having sex may affect the way you feel about yourself, how you feel about your partner and romantic relationships or how others feel about you.

Pressure Can Be Intense

The pressure sometimes can be intense – both for boys and for girls, but the decision to say “yes” or “no” is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. Is this the right person, the right time and the right reason? And there are lots of influences from peers and family to faith communities and cultures. The fear of not fitting in or being accepted can be particularly powerful with those groups. One problem is that the people and groups that are important to you may not agree on what’s best.

Plus, you and your partner may not agree about having sex and that can put strain on the relationship. You want to make each other happy, but this topic can be stressful and requires thoughtful patient attention – even though it’s often hard to talk about.

However, what is important to you is what matters the most – your desires, your values, your authorship of your life. This means attending to both physical and emotional – and potentially spiritual – issues. Sometimes the body is ready, but the emotions or spiritual values are not.

“The Good and the Bad”

Having sex can have good outcomes and it can have bad outcomes. A good choice requires considering both the potential good and the potential bad.

The Good

  • It can be exciting
  • It can bring you closer
  • It can help you mature as a young man or woman
  • It can feel good

The Bad

  • It can cause serious problems in the relationship if having sex means something significantly different and causes partners to have different expectations afterwards.
  • It can cause an unwanted pregnancy
  • It can leave you exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • It can run counter to family or religious beliefs and cause conflict

15. Guiding Questions for Good Choices

“Are you prepared and is it the right time, in the right place, with the right person, for the right reasons?”

That’s the fundamental question and there are a bunch of questions that you can ask to come to an answer to that big question. You can ask them individually. You can also ask them as a couple.

“Yes” Answers

These are questions where the answer should be “yes.” If it isn’t, you may have some work to do individually or as a couple.

  1. Do we really trust each other and can we be open and honest with each other? Does it feel right?
  2. Do I love my partner?
  3. Does he/she love me just as much?
  4. Have we talked about using condoms to prevent STIs and HIV, and was the talk OK?
  5. Have we got the contraception to protect against pregnancy?
  6. Do I feel able to say "no" at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be OK with that?
  7. Do we know all the risks?
  8. Do we have a plan if the sex results in a pregnancy?
  9. Are we both of legal age?
  10. Are we both sober?
  11. Can either of us can say “no” at any time?
  12. Does having sex fit with the values of our faith or culture?

“No” Answers

These are questions where a “no” answer is a major red flag.

  1. Do I feel under pressure from anyone, such as my partner or friends?
  2. Could I have any regrets afterwards?
  3. Am I thinking about having sex just to impress my friends or keep up with them?
  4. Am I thinking about having sex just to keep my partner?

Guiding Questions (can ask individually or as a couple)- Capturing My/Our Thoughts

Open Worksheet >

16. Why Wait

Obviously, if you can’t answer the questions noted above in the right way, then you aren’t ready to have sex. You might be ready in the near future, but you aren’t right now. And that’s fine.

Abstaining is Common

There are also some very common reasons to not have sex (to abstain):

  1. Some teenagers don't want to worry about unplanned pregnancy and all its consequences.
  2. Some teenagers see abstinence as a way to protect themselves completely from STDs. Some STDs (like AIDS) can literally make sex a life-or-death situation, and many teens take this very seriously.
  3. Some teenagers don't have sex because their religion prohibits it, their family has a belief system against it or because they simply have a very strong belief system of their own.
  4. Other teenagers simply recognize that they aren't emotionally ready and they want to wait until they're confident that they are ready.

This is about being the author of your life – taking the responsibility and power to make the best choice for you. You have time. You can also say “yes”, have sex, and realize that it’s not right for you and then say “no” the next time.

Defending Against the Common Traps

There are a few common traps that you can fall into if you want to wait and your partner does not.

Trap #1: “If you loved me, you would have sex with me.”
Answer: “If you loved me, you wouldn’t be pressuring me to have sex with you.”

Trap #2: “Aw, c’mon – everyone does it.” Answer: “I don’t care. I’m not everyone and not everyone really does it – including some of the people that say they do.”

Trap #3: "You are the only one I will ever love." Answer: "Good, then we will have lots of time later to have really good sex."

Trap #4: "If you don’t want to have sex with me, I will find someone who will." Answer: "That’s your choice. My choice is to not have sex. If being your girlfriend means that I have to sleep with you, then I guess I don’t want to be your girlfriend.”

Part Six: Emotional Intelligence & Relationship Competencies

There are some requirements for developing and maintaining a web of healthy relationships. They are the same for your life as a teenager and your life as an adult. The basics are covered here, but there are lots of resources out there that you can take advantage of that will provide details on each of these competencies. We will focus on emotional intelligence (EQ) and four basic relationship competencies.

“Emotional Intelligence” - The Foundation

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, understand and manage emotions in order to empathize with others, communicate effectively, solve problems or manage conflicts and relieve stress.

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness

The Three Basic Competencies

There are lots of competencies that support relationships, but these are the most basic. Active listening is really part of effective communications, but it is separated here because it is so important and deserves specific attention. Similarly, conflict resolution, problem solving and decision- making are closely related, but are best addressed with their own focus.

  1. Communications
  2. Active listening
  3. Conflict resolution & problem solving

17. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence impacts how you feel, what you think and how you behave. It determines how you relate to others - at home, at school, on teams or in clubs, at work, etc.

If you have high emotional intelligence you will be able to recognize your own emotional state as well as the emotional states of others - and you can relate to people effectively. People are naturally attracted to people with high emotional intelligence.

What Emotional Intelligence Looks Like - Me and Others

Some people seem to come by emotional intelligence naturally, but most of us have to work to develop it. It’s like learning a sport or new language – there are some skills to develop and practice is the path to success. There are several models of emotional intelligence. This is the most basic.

1. Self-awareness

  • You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behaviors
  • You know your strengths and weaknesses
  • You have confidence in your ability to be aware

2. Self-management

  • You have the ability to control impulsive feelings vs. being controlled by them
  • You make choices about your behaviors – managing, not just reacting
  • You can adapt quickly when circumstances change around you, surprises happen or major threats appear

3. Social awareness

  • You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns or interests of others
  • You recognize others’ emotional cues and can respond appropriately
  • You can recognize the emotional and behavioral dynamics in groups

Emotional Intelligence Affects Almost Everything

1. Your life at school & your performance at work.Emotional intelligence can help you navigate the social complexities of school, lead and motivate others, and excel in your school life.

This will also be the case in the work world you will inhabit. In fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability.

2. Your physical health. If your emotions are managing you, it is likely that your stress levels will be unhealthy. Stress is damaging when it is either too high in a particular situation or it is ongoing with little or no relief. Unhealthy stress can wear you out and it can lead to destructive reactive behaviors. Under too much stress people sometimes just react to try to interrupt it and those behaviors can have serious consequences.

3. Your mental health. The inability to manage your emotions can also impact your mental health. Depression, and anxiety are the most common consequences. Mood swings and chronic anger are also common. Developing emotional intelligence doesn’t mean you won’t feel depressed, anxious, scared, frustrated or angry, but it does mean that you will be better able to manage those emotions vs. being managed by them.

Emotional intelligence also helps you stay calm under pressure and recover from setbacks – not feeling panic in a crisis and having a sense of resilience vs. brooding for too long.

Your relationships. By understanding your emotions and being able to manage them, you will be better able to express your feelings (positive and negative) and be open to understanding and responding to others’ emotions.

This not only provides a solid foundation and path for developing relationships, but it also gets rid of a lot of the pitfalls that can undermine relationships when people are just reacting or being managed by their emotions. This is true at home, at school, at work or in other activities.

“Emotional Intelligence is a way of recognizing, understanding, and choosing how we think, feel, and act. It shapes our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. It defines how and what we learn; it allows us to set priorities; it determines the majority of our daily actions. Research suggests it is responsible for as much as 80% of the “success” in our lives.”

― J. Freedman

18. Relationship Competencies – The “Big Three”

These competencies complement your emotional intelligence and they become critical on the teenage journey, but they will continue to be critical through adult life. These competencies complement – and rely upon – your emotional intelligence.

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources that can help you develop these competencies. So, we will just outline the big three here.

The “Big Three” Relationship Competencies

  1. Communicating Out To Others – Including Self Disclosure
  2. Effective Listening – Critical Part of Communications
  3. Conflict Resolution & Problem Solving

#1 Communicating Out To Others – Including Self Disclosure

Communications is the big challenge in relationships because it is about connecting. It is about communicating out to others and it is about listening effectively. This part is about communicating out and the next part is about effective listening.

As with all the issues in relationships, it is a matter of “fit.” Some people will be interested in what you have to say about something and others won’t. That doesn’t make you wrong or uninteresting when others aren’t interested. It just means that the fit isn’t there. Get used to the fact that sometimes the fit will be there and sometimes it won’t – just the way life works.

Communicate How?

There are a surprising number of ways to communicate out to others. In fact, if you think about it, it’s hard to not communicate. For example, you can communicate:

  • Face to face
  • Online
  • Through written notes
  • In a song, picture or poem
  • Through actions
  • Through what you don’t say or do

Communicate About What?

It can often feel like you don’t have much to communicate, but the reality is that there are a surprising number of things to communicate about – it really is surprising. For example, you can communicate about:

  • Your needs
  • Your feelings
  • Things you find interesting (songs, movies, articles in the paper or online, quotes you’ve run into, classes at school or experiences on teams, in clubs, volunteering…)
  • Things going on in your family, school, community, the world
  • Things you appreciate about others
  • Challenges you face or things you are worried about or excited about
  • Gossip, if it isn’t hurtful or mean
  • Topics from the site on building an Identity, the section on building Competencies or the big section on What to Expect on the Journey.

Self-Disclosure

The thing that can be difficult about communicating out to people is that it naturally reveals things about you and that can sometimes be intimidating or anxiety producing. That’s particularly true when you reveal feelings, concerns, hopes, etc. It is critical, however, if you are to build meaningful relationships. It actually takes a fair amount of courage to build meaningful relationships.

#2 Effective Listening – Critical Part of Communications

Effective listening is the companion to the ability and willingness to communicate out. It is often overlooked and that is a major mistake. This is a competency that is well worth investing a lot of effort to master. It will serve you well in all kinds of relationships – from friendships and romantic relationships to work relationships.

  • Being able to get outside of yourself and your own needs to be available to others
  • Being truly curious about others
  • Really focusing on others, including eye contact and not being involved in other activities (particularly with little screens)
  • Suspending judgement until you have really heard and understood the other
  • Being able to reflect your understanding, so others realize they have been heard

That might sound like a lot, but it can rapidly become second nature with some effort. Some people are natural good listeners and others aren’t. Either way, invest the effort because it will make all the difference.

Probably the most helpful principle in effective listening is from Steven Covey:

Fake Listening

There is lots of fake listening going on and it doesn’t fool many people. It does, however, seriously undermine relationships. It comes in a variety of forms, for example:

Wai.0ting to Respond vs. Listening. This is really common and really damaging to relationships. The question is. “Are you really listening to the other with the intent to truly understand or o\are you waiting to be able to reply with what you want to say?”

Selective Listening. Selective listening is listening for specific topics, thoughts, feelings, etc. It isn’t about really taking in and understanding what is being communicated. It is about waiting to be triggered by something you are interested in or biased about.

Pretend Listening. This doesn’t fool many people. Pretend listening is when you might be nodding or making responses that sound like you are listening, but you are really not. It’s often given away by your eyes, which will not be focused on the other person because your mind is somewhere else.

Self-Oriented Listening. This one is tricky. This is where you relate something that someone is talking about to a similar experience or thought or feeling that you have had. That can actually be a part of effective listening or fake listening – mostly depending on your intent. Have you really heard the other person and are acknowledging common ground or arte you really mostly interested in talking about yourself. It’s sometimes a subtle difference.

#3 Conflict Resolution & Problem Solving

There are lots of decisions to be made, problems to be solved and conflicts to be resolved. They make up a large part of relationships – throughout life. There are lots of tools and models out there, so look around and see which ones make sense to you.

Guiding Questions For Conflict Resolution

There are some questions that you can ask yourself that will be helpful in most settings involving significant conflicts, decisions, or problem solving. These questions can help you get ready to solve a problem, resolve a conflict or make a decision. They will vary in their importance from situation to situation.
They help avoid just being reactive, which is one of the major pitfalls.

  • Am I ready to deal with this problem, decision or conflict in a way that protects or improves the relationship?
  • How emotional am about this situation – do I need to step back a bit?
  • How important is this to me – to others?
  • Do I really know what the conflict or decision or problem is about?
  • Do I need more or better information?
  • Can someone else help?
  • Do I understand what is important to me (my interests)?
  • Do I understand what is important to the others involved (their interests)?
  • Have I/we generated enough options to decide, solve or resolve the issue?

This is a relationship competency that is pretty complex and can vary widely in its nature. It is a competency that builds with experience, but it is one that usually requires some training in order to get good at it. The questions above can be very helpful, but this is a topic where it is in your best interest to get some training – the more the better. You can find some online, your school or community organizations may offer it or you may have to look further afield to find it.

Part Seven: It’s About a Web of Relationships

19. Webs of Relationships – Inner and Outer Circles

The Key - Build a Web of Relationships – Like a spider’s web. Some relationships will be close and some will not be particularly close. Some relationships will be long lasting and some will be shorter lived. It’s kind of like being a spider in a web. You make a bunch of connections, take care of them, replace some when they break or simply end, etc. Some relationships will be more important than others. Relationships take work – and they are worth it.

Examples of Relationships in a Relationship Web
(Surprising Number)

Having sex can have good outcomes and it can have bad outcomes. A good choice requires considering both the potential good and the potential bad.

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Extended family
  • Counselors
  • Clergy
  • Coaches
  • Police
  • Teachers
  • Neighbors
  • Peers
  • Friends
  • Girl/boyfriend
  • Group(s)
  • Teams
  • Clubs
  • Faith community
  • Community/Neighborhood
  • Jobs
  • Interest groups
  • Volunteer settings

Inner and Outer Relationship Circles

Another way to think about the web of relationships that you can build is to think about it as an inner circle of close relationships and outer circles of relationships that that vary in importance, but are not as close as those in the inner circle.

Inner Circle

These are relationships where there is clear genuine caring and connections that you can rely on. These are relationships where you can share what is really important to you and take some risks in sharing or getting advice. They may be relationships with a longer or shorter history, and they may be easy or difficult, but they are the relationships where you know that people really care about you.

Frequent Inner Circle Relationships

  • Immediate family, particularly parents
  • Close Friends (face-to-face, online, etc.)
  • Girl/boyfriends

Outer Circles You can make as many outer circles in your web of relationships as make sense to you, but probably at least two circles. For instance, your second circle could have people that know you reasonable well and that you trust to be generally supportive. They aren’t particularly close, but you know them well enough to see them as friends.

A second outer circle might have people that are acquaintances, people that you sometimes have fun doing activities with or people that you can go to if you need something.

Frequent Relationships in Outer Circles
(Some of these could be inner circle – it varies from person to person)

  • Extended family
  • Teachers
  • Coaches
  • Mentors
  • Team or club members
  • Neighbors
  • Community organizations
  • Faith community
  • Counselors
  • People in the criminal justice system
  • Co-workers
  • Bosses

A couple of examples of how to think about inner and outer circles are below, but draw your own because there is no “right way” to do this. These are just examples.

They All Matter

All the relationships in your web matter, so don’t ignore any of them. Not all will have the same importance, but it is important to see the whole web of relationships that can be part of life.

The More the Better

The more connections you have in these circles, the better. Even though some will be much more important than others, they all make a difference and a strong web can help buffer all the changes that can happen in key relationships. Friends often come and go as do girl/boyfriends. Family relationships can get closer or more distant.

Danger!

The relationships in the outer circles can often be taken for granted or underappreciated. One of the pitfalls in creating relationships on the journey is focusing too much on just a few relationships, which leaves you vulnerable to changes in those relationships – many of which you just can’t control. So, don’t fall into the trap of focusing only on one or a few relationships. Pay attention to the whole web – building it and maintaining it.

People in My Web of Relationships - Capturing My Thoughts

Open Worksheet >

20. Networking – Building the Web

One of the critical success factors in business, community work, the military or your personal life is the ability to network – to actively create a web of relationships that can help you accomplish what you want to achieve as well as to feel connected in the world. Once again, this is about actively being the author of your life vs. waiting for relationships to happen to you. Networking is how you build your web of relationships.

Networking is a verb. You build a network by actively networking.

― Unknown

Networking is Also an Adult Challenge

You can approach the building of relationships as a teenager just as you will as an adult. The principles are the same, so if you follow them as a teenager you will increase your chances of success just as you will as an adult.

This builds on the work you do to know and appreciate yourself (significance and purpose, personal characteristics and values as well as the range of competencies you are developing). It’s important to know and appreciate what you are bringing to a relationship - it’s probably more than you might think at first.

Unfortunately, it takes work to build a network and there is no guarantee of immediate success. In fact, as noted earlier, developing relationships with other teenagers comes with a lot of disappointments and you have to power through those and keep networking.

“You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The best network is one that helps you find your way on the journey from childhood to adulthood. It can encourage you, support you, help you recover from setbacks, challenge you - and also just have some fun.

"Poverty, I realized, wasn’t only a lack of financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people that could help you make more of yourself."

― Keith Ferrazzi

Being Interested in and Giving to Others – The Key

If you are truly interested in others and curious about them, they will get that. This doesn’t mean that you have to ignore your interests and needs, but it does mean that you don’t lead with them. You can’t fake interest in others very well or for very long, so don’t even try.

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

― Dale Carnegie

Many/most people will respond to your interest and then become interested in you. Then you have a relationship. It may be a deep and lasting relationship or it might be a more casual relationship, but it will take its place in your network.

Stephen Covey’s quote from the section on listening is also appropriate here:

Seek first to understand – then seek to be understood.

As with being interested in others, giving to others can be tough when you really want them giving to you. Fortunately, the giving is usually in small ways and will simply allow you to behave in ways that fits what you have discovered about your significance and values. It’s you being you.

As with being interested in others, you will run into plenty of people who can’t give anything to you because they are so sunk in themselves. You can let those relationships go too and move on.

"Networking is simply the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give and take, win-win relationships. It works best, however, when emphasizing the ‘give’ part."

― Bob Burg

You Have Something to Offer

Networking is not just about getting your needs met. It is also about what you bring to the relationship – whether with other teenagers or with adults.

To Other Teenagers.
You probably have much more to offer to peers in a relationship than you think. Whether a particular person sees that value or not is another story – and it’s always about “fit.” But, don’t sell yourself short. You might bring curiosity, empathy, companionship in activities, listening, competencies, shared experiences, support, personal characteristics, a sense of purpose, a sense of humor, shared goals, etc.

To Adults.
Networking with adults often comes with the question, “But I’m just a teenager – what am I bringing to the relationship?”

As a teenager you bring life, energy, curiosity and possibility. Plus, most adults want to make a difference for young people - most remember those that helped them on their path and appreciate the opportunity to give back.

Many adults often assume that teenagers aren’t interested in a relationship with them, so are surprised and pleased to find that is not the case. If you give adults a chance to be part of your life – particularly if you tell them how they can support you in achieving your goals – you will be surprised at how many respond.

You might also be surprised at how you can support others – both teenagers and adults. That can be in little or big ways, so explore the possibilities. Networking is not just about getting your needs met. Some relationships in your network will be focused on supporting you, but others will be more balanced. That’s the way it works.

“A friend may be waiting behind a stranger's face.”

― Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter

Part Eight: Pitfalls

21. The Toughest Dilemma – Identity vs. Relationships

“How much of myself do I have to give up to be in a relationship?” This is not always a major dilemma, but it often is during the teen years. As with many of the ways we are tested during our time as teenagers, this issue continues well into adulthood and in some ways will always be with us.

"The reward for conformity is that everybody likes you, except yourself."

― Rita Mae Brown, author of Rubyfruit Jungle

This dilemmacan come up in terms of relationships with parents, peers (individually or in groups) or romantic relationships. It can also come up with relationships to clubs, teams, cliques, gangs, organizations and even faith communities.

The best relationships are those where you can fully be yourself. There are others, however, where you have to hold back or downplay some aspect of who you are in order to maintain the relationship- and that’s not all bad, as it’s the way of the world. The key is to be aware of how much you are compromising and not give too much of yourself away.

So the identity challenge is to find yourself - and the relationship challenge is to get connected without losing yourself. This is simply part of the natural challenge of being a teenager - often difficult, but normal.

“Don't chase people. Be yourself, do your own thing, and work hard. The right people, the ones who really belong in your life, will come to you. And stay.”

― Will Smith, actor

22. Too Small a Network/Web or Putting Too Much Importance on a Relationship

There may be times when you have a best friend, a circle of close friends, are part of a team or group and have good relationships with your family. That’s a pretty good web of relationships.

There may be other times, given the changing nature of people and relationships in the teen years, where your web of relationships gets pretty limited – no best friend, not many people in your circle of friends or lots of changes, difficulty with family relationships and not part of a group or team. That’s actually not unusual at times for teenagers, but it can cause a good deal of anxiety, doubting of self-worth and even depression.

You may also find that you are relying almost totally on a best friend or boy/girlfriend and that can generate feelings of vulnerability and overdependence. Adolescence is a ten-year heroic journey, so assume some changes in your web or relationships and also assume that you will need to work at building and maintain that web.

People will probably come and go and your web of relationships may vary from extensive and strong to limited and vulnerable. When it’s strong, don’t take it for granted and work to maintain it. When it’s weak, don’t freak out – just keep working at developing various relationships and remember that it may take time, but it will happen.

23. Failing to Realize/Accept the Value You Bring to a Relationship

It’s much easier to take the risk to try developing new relationships when you have a good self-image, when your view of your identity is one of a person worth being in a relationship with. This is where the section on the identity challenge becomes critical.

You don’t have to be the best at everything to be worth being a partner in a relationship, ut it is important to have a sense of how you are worthy. That can come from what you discovered in the sections on how you are of significance, your personal qualities, your sense of purpose and your values. It also comes from experience.

It also comes from your emotional intelligence, communication skills, empathy, curiosity, sense of humor, etc. All the pieces add up, so see what the whole picture looks like – and remember that almost everyone is struggling with this pitfall.

In terms of adults – particularly adults being willing to support you – please understand that we were all teenagers once and most of us remember it quite well. Most of us are more than willing to support teenagers on their journey – but we often don’t know how to do it because lots of times teenagers don’t let us in. It feels good to support another person and the nobility of teenagers on a heroic journey is well worth supporting, so you can assume that most adults will see your significance and be very willing to support you in meeting the challenges you face.

24. Failing to be the Author - Networking & Building Your Web of Relationships

Sometimes you fall into relationships or they happen to you because others initiate them or they come with being part of a team or group. That’s always nice, but that needs to be complemented by you being the author of your life and your web of relationships – actively networking, which means establishing relationships and maintaining them.

You won’t always be successful – no one is – but the key is to keep working at it and getting better and better as a friend, teammate, colleague or family member. It’s a journey and there will be ups and downs, so being the author isn’t always easy – but it’s the only way to be successful over time. The pitfall is becoming discouraged or allowing setbacks to undermine your confidence and resolve - taking you out of the author posture and becoming passive.

  1. Developing your web of relationships is a heroic journey – by definition – and it takes time
  2. The journey is a rollercoaster experience with lots of ups and downs.
  3. The key to a relationship is the “fit” of the partners and that is a challenge during the teen years as everyone is changing – lots of moving targets – so “fit” can be a challenge.
  4. If you’re struggling with relationships, you are part of the largest club in the world – teenagers struggling with relationships. It’s just a natural part of the journey.
  5. Your relationship with your parents will change significantly as you go from a parent-child relationship to an adult-young adult relationship
  6. The key will be your willingness and ability to take on responsibility and your parents willingness and ability to let go of control
  7. It can be a weird dance with lots of awkwardness and missteps and the need for forgiveness and trying again and again to find the new “fit”
  8. There are very clear characteristics of healthy relationships and very clear characteristics of unhealthy relationships
  9. Romantic relationships may be a major part of the journey early or they may become significant later in the journey
  10. Romantic relationships can bring a bunch of benefits and they also come with some pitfalls
  11. Whether to have sex or wait can be a difficult and confusing decision. The key is to make a conscious choice and there are guiding questions to help with that choice
  12. Endings in relationships are inevitable and they can be difficult and painful – whether initiating the ending or having your partner end the relationship
  13. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is key to being a good partner in a relationship. It is the ability to identify, understand and manage emotions in order to relate effectively with others.
  14. There are three basic competencies that support good relationships – communicating out to others, active listening, and effective conflict resolution and problem solving
  15. You have a whole web of relationships – and you are like a spider in a web, making the connections and taking care of the web
  16. Some people will be in your inner circle of relationships and some will be in outer circles, but they are all important
  17. You build your web by networking – working at forming relationships
  18. Key to networking is being interested in others and remembering the value you bring to relationships
  19. There are some natural pitfalls on the journey – giving up too much of yourself to be in a relationship; having too small a web of relationships; failing to realize the value you bring to relationships; and failing to work at networking and building the web (being the author).

Teen Heroic Journey
Core Challenge #3 on the Teen Heroic Journey Developing Competencies

Introduction:

WHAT WILL I FIND HERE?

There are three levels of detail here:
1. A table of contents - what you need to know and do on the journey
2. A summary of each topic in the outline
3. A bigger section with more details for each topic, including ways to apply what you learn

So, you can take in the outline at a glance and see what interests you. You can check the summary to get a picture of each topic. And you can go into more detail and use the questions and tools that help you apply each topic to your life right now.

Table of Contents:

Summary

Part One: The Foundation for Adulthood

1. There are Twelve Types of Competencies to be Built

And they go beyond school. This is the exciting part and the scary part. It’s exciting to see all the competencies you can develop and think about what you might be able to do in life. It’s also scary because there are so many competencies to develop. ...Read More

2. Competencies are Built in Many Places and in Different Ways

Competencies can be developed in school, in families, in the community, on teams/clubs, in faith communities, even in community colleges and universities for high school students. Some competencies will be developed in classes, some in workshops, some in performing or playing sports, some in volunteering, some in being a productive member of a family and some in jobs. ...Read More

3. You Don’t Have to Master All the Competencies

Some of these competencies you just have to be OK at. Some you will want to be good at. A few will be competencies that you really want to master. Those are choices you will make. The point is – you can be a successful young adult by being OK at a bunch of these competencies, good at more of them and a master of a few. ...Read More

4. There are Four Stages of Competency Development

There is a natural four step process that we go through in developing a new competency. This will happen lots of times during the teenage years because there are lots of competencies to build. We usually go from (a) unconscious incompetence (don’t know what we don’t know); to (b) conscious incompetence (we know what we don’t know); to (c) conscious competence (we know, but have to focus a lot); to (d) we know and it’s a natural flow. ...Read More

Part Two: It’s a Journey – It Takes Time

5. Be the Author – Take Charge of Your Competency Development

The challenge is to be author of building these competencies – you will need to be or they won’t get built – it’s about letting go of the dependency of childhood and becoming an independent young adult.

You will need to be the author of the experience in two ways. One is talking advantage of the opportunities that are naturally presented to you (vs. just getting by). The other is taking the initiative to develop competencies that are desirable, but where you have to be more active in making it happen.Being the author takes some planning, which may not have been much of a factor pre-teen years. It will be from now on. ...Read More

6. Your Trajectory on the Journey is the Key

Being a teenager is a ten-year journey and these competencies are developed over that period of time. Some will develop without you’re even being aware of it, but most will require you to “be the author” and take action and commit yourself to get to the competency level you want. Some competency development will happen because you are in school or on a team, in a club or in relationships. Many competencies, however, will require some effort by you to figure out where and how to develop them.
Your Trajectory. Because there are so many competencies and they develop over a long period of time, the key thing to look at is your trajectory – not how many competencies are left to be developed. If you are being the author and developing a reasonable number of competencies – to the level you want – then you are on a good trajectory, you are moving down the path, and you can feel good about that and just “hold the course.” ...Read More

7. Create Your Plan – It’s About What You Want

A plan is important, but the greatest value comes in the process of thinking through your goals and how to reach them. A plan is actually a commitment to yourself and a commitment to a set of actions. A quote attributed to lots of people provides some key guidance – “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan next month.” And, you can assume that you will refine your plan as you go down the path because we always learn as we go and have to respond to what we learn. There are always surprises (good and bad), there are always barriers and setbacks and we always learn what works and can apply that. ...Read More

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.

― Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life

8. Find the Support You Need - Heroes Never Go Alone

You have to find your teachers, coaches, trainers, mentors, and companions. Don’t wait for them to find you. This is particularly true outside of school when you need to find support in the larger community, extended family, etc. ...Read More

Part Three: The Keys to Mastering Your Competencies

9. “Learning to Love the Plateau” – Where Mastery Happens

Developing competencies, particularly getting to the mastery level, does not happen in a straight line with constant improvement. It usually happens in a rhythm of improvement spurts followed by extended periods on a plateau where improvement doesn’t seem to happen very much. That requires learning to “love the plateau”, which is one of the keys to life. That means valuing and focusing on what’s called “right practice” vs. consistent obvious improvement. It means trusting that, if you continue to work at it, another spurt of improvement will come – although you probably won’t be able to see it coming.

Essential to “learning to love the plateaus” is dealing with the inevitable failures and disappointments that are part of developing competencies. They are a natural – and inescapable – part of the process, so the key is learning from them and getting stronger vs. being discouraged or diminished. ...Read More

Perhaps we will never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal, but the path itself

― George Leonard, Mastery

10. Habits and Practice are Key – “Oh, No”

This is one of those good news/bad news things. The good news is that habits and practice are within your control, but the bad news is that you have to develop them with some dedicated practice as the good ones don’t form themselves and the bad ones sneak in easily. ...Read More

First we develop our habits and then our habits develop us.

― Multiple Authors

Part Four: Pitfalls on the Journey

11. Failing to “Heed the Call” to Go Forth or Failing to “Be the Author”

This is the big pitfall because, if you don’t take on the author role and create the experiences for yourself, you will miss the opportunity to build too many of the competencies. Lots of opportunities to build competencies are offered to you, particularly in school, but many you have to go out and find elsewhere. AND – you have to take advantage of the school opportunities – not just survive school. ...Read More

12. Focusing on Outcomes vs. the Journey

It takes time to build competencies and it takes a long time to build all the competencies you will need. It’s a journey with ups and downs, successes and failures, excitement and frustration. Pay attention to the journey experience because the journeys keep coming as an adult. ...Read More

13. Failing to Plan Well – “Over-doing it or Under-doing it”

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Plans organize thoughts and actions and that’s important with all that’s going on in life. Good plans can actually simplify life – and support success in competency building. But, don’t over-plan as that can make it too cumbersome. ...Read More

14. Failing to Find Support

Trying to build the competencies without support is a recipe for failure. Heroes never went on journeys alone in the myths and neither should you. There is more support out there than you might think. ...Read More

15. Failing to Persevere or Build on Setbacks/Failures

Setbacks, disappointments, frustration and failures are simply part of the journey. Learning how to deal with them and learning from them are essential skills. Denying them or doing everything to “play it safe” is dangerous when confronted with the challenge to build competencies. There is a pattern or rhythm to developing competencies and such experiences as frustration and disappointment are part of it. ...Read More

16. Failing to Build Habits

We build our habits and then our habits build us. Unfortunately, habits take time and discipline – they don’t form themselves and they don’t form quickly. It’s very easy to get tired or discouraged and give up before the habits are formed. ...Read More

There are Four Keys to Success

As with the Identity and Competency challenges, the key to being successful with relationships is to follow four principles:

1. Face the challenge directly.
The challenge to form new more mature relationships with a bunch of people, most of whom are trying to find their own way and changing rapidly, will be there by definition. Your power is based on directly engaging with the challenge.

2. Be the author and act,
even when unsure about what actions to take. The central challenge of the heroic journey is saying “yes” to the journey and becoming the author (as much as possible) of the experience.

3. Get support from others and support others.
Heroes don’t ever go alone in the myths (and succeed) and we don’t either in taking on our life challenges. We need support from others and we can also support others on their journey.

4. Persevere through the setbacks, disappointments and tough times.
Because it’s a rollercoaster, there will naturally be some tough times, setbacks and disappointments – for everyone. That’s just the way it works. Staying engaged with the challenge and refusing to give in or give up is essential. That’s actually where a great deal of your growth will happen.

Part One: The Foundation for Adulthood

1. There are Twelve Types of Competency to be Built

Developing competencies is a life-long quest, but it is most intense as a teenager. That is partly because so many competencies need to be developed, partly because you don’t have a lot of experience developing a lot of competencies and partly because so much is changing in your life all at once.

You are dealing with the other two core challenges of the teen journey – figuring out who you are as a young man or woman and figuring out how to develop all kinds of relationships. And a major complicating factor is that, other than school, the world is not set up to present you with obvious opportunities to learn many of the life competencies you will need.

It Can be Intimidating

As a teenager you get thrown into a world where there is a wide and often intimidating range of competencies to be developed. That is because there simply is a surprising set of general competencies required to be a successful adult. Some are intellectual competencies, some are physical competencies, some are emotional/social competencies, and some are spiritual competencies.

It Goes Beyond School

These competencies go well beyond the competencies that people expect to develop in their school classes, although school is the world where many of these competencies can be developed. Some of these competencies you will build because they are presented to you in classes, teams, groups and social circles that revolve around your school. But many will need to be developed by you using a good deal of initiative to find places where you can develop them and people that can support you in doing so.

Be the Author – Exercise Your Power

This is the challenge - to be the author of your experience as a teenager – as much as possible. You naturally get thrown into the heroic journey simply because the world demands that you build these competencies to be successful. You didn’t ask for this challenge. But, the key is to quickly become the author of the experience and take charge – as much as possible.

As you skim the competencies listed below, think about which ones can be developed in your school setting, which in your home, which in your neighborhood or community, which in volunteer or part-time jobs, etc.

Twelve Types of Competencies

“Where & how can I develop them? Who can help?"

  1. Social Competencies

    Healthy relationships (lots of different kinds), collaboration (see overlap with executive), networking, conflict resolution, negotiating, empathy and support, healthy confrontation, assertiveness, active listening, being helpful/supportive, communicating needs and desires, compassion, conversation skills

  2. 2. Intellectual/Academic Competencies

    Intellectual curiosity, study habits/skills, classroom behavior, homework, memorization, analysis, writing papers, test taking, working with others, relationships with teachers, coaches, counselors

  3. Emotional Competencies (including resilience)

    EQ – recognizing feelings (your own and others), expressing feelings, empathy, impulse control, dealing with negative self-talk vs. positive self-talk, delaying gratification, managing anger, patience, sense of power/influence

  4. Physical Competencies

    Physical fitness, individual or sports/performing arts, healthy eating, medical/dental care, sleep, managing drug/alcohol use, risk management, managing abusive relationships, recovery from illness, injury, abuse, managing media use

  5. Cultural Competencies

    Understanding and appreciating differences – race, ethnicity, gender, political, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, national, personal differences of taste

  6. Competencies For Managing the Social Media World

    Balancing with face-to-face time, projecting yourself vs. protecting yourself, creating an authentic personal brand online, knowing what to post and what not to post, using different online tools.

  7. Competencies for Resilience

    Stress management, flexibility, self-care, creativity, recovery, perseverance – how to come back from disappointments, failures and injuries or illnesses.

  8. Competencies for Living Independently

    Financial literacy, cooking, laundry, transportation, housing, job prep and pursuit, budgeting and money management, work skills

  9. Competencies For Managing a Life

    Purpose, values, meaning - planning, motivation, decision-making, risk assessment, organizing, analyzing, communicating, collaborating, creativity, change, accountability, self-management, project management

  10. Competencies For Being Part of a Group/Community

    Connecting, contributing, modeling moral/ethical behavior and personal values, standing up for what is right, group skills, being a team member or leader and building groups and teams

  11. Competencies for a Spiritual Life

    Exploring different spiritual paths and making an authentic commitment when ready. Understanding the concepts and principles. Participating in rituals and activities. Reflecting and debating. Finding the guides to help.

  12. Competencies in Skilled Trades

    Carpentry, plumbing, electrical, painting, etc. (may not be a career, but useful in life) – lots of possible skilled trades. You may or may not become a carpenter or general contractor as a profession. But, having competencies as a carpenter or other skilled craftsman can be highly rewarding and a way to take care of your home and family as an adult.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

― Robert A. Heinlein – Science Fiction Writer

Being the Author – Steps I Can Take

What Can I Do? Capturing My Thoughts

Another Way to Look at the Range of Competencies

Here is another way to look at the competencies to be built as a teenager. Some are focused on self-care, some are focused on relationships and some are school focused. It’s just another way to see the competencies.

There is obviously a lot of overlap, but the idea is that there are different ways you can approach understanding the competencies to be developed and your approach to doing so. There is no single “right way” to go about this, so just be curious and see what starts to emerge as your way of taking on this challenge. And remember that it is a journey and takes time.

These are just examples and they are all competencies you will need as a young adult – and hopefully continue to develop as an adult. You get a crash course in them as a teenager. It’s not like you can focus on a couple and get them handled and then move on to the next couple. No, they pretty much all come at the same time.

If it seems daunting and sometimes overwhelming – there is nothing wrong with you. It is daunting and sometimes overwhelming. That’s just the nature of the journey you are on.

The Key – Take Charge – Be the Author of Your Experience

The key is to pay attention to the competencies to be built and where they might be built. Some can be built in the normal course of your life at school, including clubs, teams and the arts. They can be built in the normal course of being part of a family, in your faith community or in volunteer or part-time jobs. For some competencies you might have to look elsewhere, like workshops or courses in the community, courses in a community college or adult ed courses, simply asking someone to teach you something, or finding opportunities online.

In any of those settings, what will be most important is for you to “be the author.” Choose what you want to pursue and actively pursue it vs. waiting for t to come to you.

#2 Competencies are Built in a Lot of Different Places & in Different Ways

There are lots of settings in which you can develop competencies. There are a lot of doors to go through to find opportunities to build competencies. School offers a lot of doors to go through, but there are many others – yes, including at home. In fact, when you look at all the opportunities, all those opportunities are kind of overwhelming – in a good way.


The Two Central Questions to Ask

The Key Questions Are

  1. One key is to look at all these settings and ask:
    • "What can I learn in these different settings?"
      Whatever setting you happen to be in, you can always see how many competencies you might be able to develop. Some competencies may not be obvious right away, so ask the question.
  2. The other question to ask - when approaching any experience is:
    • “If I have this experience (a class, trip, volunteer assignment or job, team, club, etc.), what competencies could I build?”

      an experience and get some benefit out of it, but you can have the same experience and get a lot of benefits out of it, if you are intentional about it. Ask the question.

Sometimes the answers are easy, but sometimes it takes some work and exploration to find where to learn a particular skill. For example, it might be easy to find where to learn how to create a budget or use a bank account, but difficult to find where to learn relationship competencies like active listening or empathy.

The internet has changed the game, however, so a stunning number of competencies can be developed through good resources on the net.


The Amazing Range of Opportunities for Developing Competencies

The following settings all offer potential opportunities to build competencies. There are a lot of doors with opportunities behind them.

Some Good News. You can learn the same competency in several settings, which is good to have that kind of reinforcement. For example, problem solving, communications, self-management and time management are all part of many of these settings.

School

You can develop an extraordinary range of competencies in school.  Or you can miss most of those opportunities. The difference is in how you approach school.

  1. You can approach it as a place full of opportunities to develop a wide range of competencies.
  2. You can approach school as something to get through with the least hassle possible.
  3. You can also approach it as a place to learn academic knowledge and miss the rest.

Make school work for you.  The key is to take the first approach and very intentionally look to see what skills you can learn in any school setting. School might not be your favorite thing and your school might be quite varied in teaching/coaching quality, but the opportunities are there.

  • Classes
  • Clubs
  • Athletics
  • Performing arts
  • Being a peer mentor
  • Volunteering

The specific competencies you can develop in school settings are pretty impressive.  The problem is that you might not have a lot of support in identifying them and taking advantage of them. That is where finding others to engage with comes into play (peers, adults, etc.)

  • How to deal with difficult people
  • How to manage your emotions
  • Communicating with others (written, verbal, digital)
  • Planning and organizing
  • Time management
  • Understanding people different from you
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem solving
  • Physical competencies
  • Leadership
  • Study habits
  • Analysis
  • Stress management and resilience
  • Decision making
  • Creativity
  • Acccountability

The Internet

This is a huge resource. Check out what’s available for any topic of interest

  • Use your common sense to determine which sites are credible
  • Ask others you trust for credible sites
  • Create your own library of sites that you can return to (most competencies require time and practice and review)

Paid Jobs or Volunteer Jobs

Many volunteer jobs offer as many opportunities to develop competencies as paid jobs. As with schools, make any job work for you by approaching it with the intent to learn as many competencies as you can.

  • Specific skills and knowledge required for the job
  • How to deal with a boss
  • How to work with co-workers
  • How to supervise others
  • Communications kills
  • Time management skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem solving
  • Planning & organizing
  • Budgeting

Family or Extended Family

Whether your family is healthy or dysfunctional, you have the opportunity to learn or practice a lot of skills in the family setting. Different families offer different competencies, often based on the competencies of the adults and their willing ness to teach them. Take advantage.

  • Negotiation
  • Conflict management
  • Communications
  • Managing your health
  • Collaboration
  • Managing emotions
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Budgeting
  • Driving a vehicle
  • Hobbies other members can teach you

Community/Social Action Groups

You can learn a lot, and also do good, by being involved with community groups. You don’t need a large role if you pay attention to the opportunities to learn.

  • Negotiation
  • Conflict management
  • Communications
  • Managing your health
  • Collaboration
  • Managing emotions
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Budgeting
  • Driving a vehicle
  • Hobbies other members can teach you

Youth Groops

Youth groups can offer a lot of opportunities to build competencies, particularly relationship and leadership competencies Many also offer the opportunity to build specific competencies in other categories. They are also good for simply connecting with others and having fun. Many have a service focus to help make a difference.

Some of the key relationship competencies include:

  • Negotiation
  • Conflict management
  • Communications
  • Managing your health
  • Collaboration
  • Managing emotions
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Budgeting
  • Driving a vehicle
  • Hobbies other members can teach you

Faith Communities

Faith communities can not only guide the exploration and development of your faith, they often also provide many of the opportunities found in youth groups and community/social action groups. You can get more involved in your family’s faith community and you can explore other faith communities.

Libraries

Good libraries have an amazing array of resources and the good ones can help you navigate them – including the internet.

Camps

There are camps for all kinds of experiences. They vary in length and expense as well as focus. For example:

  • Adventure camps
  • Camps focused on certain sports or arts
  • Communications
  • Service trips/camps
  • Collaboration
  • Camps sponsored by faith communities
  • Leadership camps
  • Etc.

Just start exploring on the internet, asking friends, school personnel, etc.

Colleges

Some colleges and community colleges offer pretty extensive adult education courses that you can take and some offer programs for high school students. As with camps, you can just start exploring to see what’s out there in your community.

“It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”

― Albert Einstein

#3 You don’t Have to Master all These Competencies



Some competencies only require a minimal level of knowledge or skill to make a difference

For example, you don’t need to be a master chef, but you do need to know how to shop and prepare simple meals. You don’t need to be a financial wizard, but you do need to know how to budget your money and basic bank or investment accounts. You don’t need to be a doctor or personal trainer, but you do need to know how to take care of your basic health.

Other competencies do need to be mastered

But, these will be the competencies where you have the greatest interest. For example, if you want to become a physician, you need to master science and a bunch of other things. If you want to be a performing artist, you need to master your craft. If you want to be an electrician, you also need to master your craft.

There are a lot of competencies that fall in-between basic competence and mastery

Relationship skills are a good example. The better you are at these skills the better your relationships will be and the more advantages you will have in your personal and work settings. Academic skills (reading, analyzing, writing, computing, studying effectively…) also fall into this category as they are broadly applicable in adult life – even if they don’t seem that way now.

So, Relax

It’s a journey and you can develop competencies over time. The key is to be the author in terms of deciding which competencies to develop and how. Don’t wait for people to do this for you because the world is not set up to do that for you (unfortunately). School does structure a lot of competency building, so take advantage of that. But many of these competencies are not developed well in school, so you will need to take the initiative. By all means, get help, but don’t wait for others to take care of you. This is a good example of the central principle of the heroic journey – be the author.

"I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for - perfection is God's business."

― Michael J. Fox

#4 There are Four Stages of Competency Development

This is interesting and important. In developing most competencies, we go through four stages. We usually spend time in each phase and rarely skip one. Knowing the nature of these stages takes some of the unknown out of the process and can make sense out of what is often a challenging journey.

Four Stages of Competency Development


  1. Unconscious Incompetence

    We don’t know what we don’t know.

    We might have a sense that something is missing that we need to pursue, but it is not a clear gap. On the other hand, sometimes we don’t even know what we are missing or what’s possible. That may be because we never had to use the competency or never even gave much thought to it. Boys (in general), for example, seem to naturally tend to overlook effective listening as a key competency. “What, effective listening is a thing – and I should be good at it? There are specific skills and practices?”

  2. Conscious Incompetence

    We know what we need to develop, but don’t have the knowledge or skills yet.

    This can be exciting as the possibilities become clear or it can be disheartening as we realize how far from competency we might be and what it might take to gain that competency. Feeling incompetent is not a good feeling, but you can often accept it and change the feeling to one of excitement or anticipation of new skills and knowledge.

    Once we get to conscious incompetence, it’s a good idea to find some ways to start building the competence. Just starting can take the edge off feeling incompetent and that’s important because feeling incompetent is not a good feeling. What matters is being on the journey and moving.

  3. Conscious Competence

    We have developed the knowledge and skills to be competent in a particular area, but it still requires conscious effort.

    We have not established habits or “muscle memory” that allows us to perform without consciously paying attention. This can take a lot of attention and energy. Practice is usually the path out of this stage and into the next and perseverance is the key.

  4. Unconscious Competence

    We are in the flow.

    We have developed the skills and knowledge and have practiced long enough that the competence flows naturally and without a lot of conscious effort.

Four Stages of Competency Development


These competencies can be of varying levels – from “OK “to “pretty good” to “very good” to “mastery.” The cycle of development is the same. It is a matter of how far you want to take the competency and the effort/time dedicated, particularly in the conscious competence stage.

Remember – you do not need to master all of the competencies of being a young adult. In fact, you need to actually master relatively few, which is lucky because true mastery takes a long time in the conscious competence stage. But the more that you can get “pretty good” or “very good” at, the better.

Part Two: It's a Journey

#5 Competency Building and the Heroic Journey

The challenge of developing competencies is a good example of the basic parts of the heroic journey, particularly being the author and the three types of test encountered on the journey.

The Three Types of Test on a Heroic Journey

  1. Let Go of Old Ways

    The central “old way” that you must let go of as a teenager is that of being dependent - relying on the competencies of others to take care of your needs. This is harder than it sounds because it is nice to be taken care of. As a child, you didn’t need very many competencies to be OK. Competencies could be developed slowly, often in fun ways and there were not a lot of consequences for not developing competencies.

    As a teenager, the idea is to become increasingly independent – to be doing more “caring for” than “being cared for.” The “caring for” can be for yourself or for others. This is a big shift and a lot of competencies come into play. And they come fast and furious. Letting go of relying on the competencies of others is a tough challenge.

    If you don’t let go of old ways, you won’t have the opening for discovering the new ways. On the other hand, building competencies makes it a lot easier to let go of the old ways

  2. Discover and Master New Ways

    This is obviously a big test because there are a lot of competencies to build, often at the same time. A surprisingly important part of this test is simply deciding which competencies you want to build and how you will go about building them. Then it is a matter of following through and “holding the course” until you have developed the levels of competency you want. One of the sneaky parts of this test is determining where and how you can develop competencies that aren’t built into your school experience.

  3. Deal with “Inbetweenity”

    Inbetweenity” is a tough test for the teen years because there is so much of it in so many areas and because it can last for a long time. It’s particularly tough around 14-16 because you have already let go of a lot of aspects of being a child, but haven’t had time to make it to young adulthood in lots of areas.

    There are lots of competencies to be built and they take time, so that sense of not being there yet – or in-between - will be a frequent companion. That can be frustrating, but manage the frustration or feeling of being “unfinished” because that’s where you are supposed to be. As you develop competencies in more and more areas, those feelings of “inbetweenity” fade.

    The more competencies you build, the less the sense of being in-between will affect you. Building competencies moves you toward your new identity as a young man or woman.

Be the Author – The Heart of the Heroic Journey

  • Beyond School

    This challenge will fall to you – although you will have a lot of help. Some of these competencies are taught in school – classes, teams, clubs. Some are taught in faith communities or families. Many are not. Your challenge is to look beyond what is being presented to you and identify where you can go to develop more of these skills – be the author.

    For example, with the internet you don’t need to wait for courses to start mastering these skills. There are resources online that can at least give you an overview of the skills and how to pursue them. In most communities, there are also workshops and courses and seminars that are available. Most of them are not aimed directly at teenagers, but many are appropriate and classes of adults really like having teenagers involved because of the different perspective you bring. You would be welcomed in the vast majority of cases.

    You have gotten used to responding to what school throws at you, but as teenagers you need to begin taking the initiative for the competencies you need to develop. Managing your school experience vs. letting it manage you – the norm in elementary school and often middle school.

  • Take Advantage of Every Setting

    Being the author also means looking to see how many competencies can be developed in the settings you are normally in – classes, home, teams and groups, etc. There are always obvious competencies to be developed in a particular setting, whether a class team or group, but there are usually many competencies that are less obvious that you can develop if you pay attention and look for them. For example, there are many settings in which you can learn a lot about relationships, leadership, planning, dealing with differences, etc.

#6 Your Trajectory on the Journey is the Key

One reason that the teen years usually span about 10 years is that there is so much to do. It simply takes time and it really is a journey. It’s not a race and you’re not supposed to develop all these competencies in the first few years of being a teenager. There is also a rhythm to the journey. The journey is like a roller coaster, sometimes steep and sometimes flatter. Sometimes it’s exciting and sometimes it’s scary.


Enjoy the Ride and Remember – it’s a Journey

sub The key is to actively pursue mastering these skills and enjoy the learning process. The heroic journey is about becoming the author of your life and competency building is a good arena in which to practice that. Plus, it feels good to develop competencies and become increasingly independent. The more competencies you develop, the better it feels.

The key is to actively pursue mastering these skills and enjoy the learning process. The heroic journey is about becoming the author of your life and competency building is a good arena in which to practice that. Plus, it feels good to develop competencies and become increasingly independent. The more competencies you develop, the better it feels.


Your Trajectory

As long as you are on a good trajectory (pace) in developing the competencies you need, you can feel good about your journey. All these competencies don’t get built in the first 3-4 years of being a teenager. That may seem frustrating, but that’s the way it works. The only way to eat an elephant is in a series of small bites.


#7 Create Your Plan – It’s About You & What You Want



“Do I really have to plan? That sounds boring.” Planning is only boring when you don’t take it seriously. That is because planning is all about you and what you want. Planning is about deciding which competencies are the most important to you. Planning helps you determine what your priorities are and helps devote your energy to developing the competencies you most want.

This is particularly important where competencies are concerned because there is such a large number of competencies required for success as a young man or woman. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you don’t feel like you are getting some control over this challenge. You need to develop a lot of competencies, but you don’t need to develop them all at once

Plans are Answers to Basic Questions – and They Evolve
Plans are simply answers to basic questions that you ask yourself. For example:

  • What do I want? What competencies do I want to develop? When do I want to develop them? Immediately or in the next six months or next year or later?
  • What actions do I want to take to develop these competencies?
  • Who can support me and how?
  • How will I track my progress and know I am on a good trajectory?


Five Keys to a Plan Worth Having

  1. Do it - the process of planning is as important as the plan

    Planning is a form of thinking – assessing, thinking about possible actions, making choices and committing, timing and sequencing actions, etc. Planning is just a way to guide thinking and set up for effectively acting.

  2. Make it Yours - make it what you want

    Planning is a way to be the author of your life – to gain influence over what happens in your life. It should be about what you want in the vast majority of cases. There will always be some things that other want you to do or require you to do – that’s life – but most planning should be focused on what you want – being the author of your life.

  3. Keep it Simple - don’t over-plan

    Plans do not need to be big and complex and fancy. Simple is often best. If you find you need more detail, then add it, but start simple. And don’t worry about whether it is a perfect plan. An OK plan today is better than a perfect plan next month.

  4. Give it Life - feed it attention & energy

    If you followed the first three guidelines, then you probably have a plan or plans worth investing in. So, invest some time and energy and see where it takes you. Give your plan some life. Act on it.

  5. Persevere & Keep it Flexible - life will intrude

    Usually the pattern is that we plan, then reality intrudes and blows up the plan and we have to revise the plan – usually more than once. Having a good plan is important, even if reality interferes and we have to change it. What is often more important is our ability to learn from experience and refine our plan as we go.

    Your initial timing may have been unrealistic, you may have missed something that helps or hinders your plan, new factors may appear, you may hit an unforeseen barrier or pitfall, etc. You can also hit spots where you get frustrated or tired or discouraged and in those spots, it’s a matter of simply putting one foot in the other until you get through the tough spot.

Building the Competencies I Want – My Plan

What Can I Do? Capturing My Thoughts

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

WORKSHEET

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I'll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I'll give you a stock clerk. ”

― J.C. Penney

#8 Support

Heroes Don't Go Alone

  • Companions

    Companions can be extremely powerful. You are all in this journey together and all facing the same core challenges. Teenagers working together is one of the most powerful forces in the world, but it doesn’t happen often enough. You can talk with your peers about this challenge, about the competencies you are interested in developing, about how to go about that and about how to support each other. That’s powerful.

  • Teachers/Coaches/Mentors/Advisors

    There are more people that can play these roles for you than you would suspect – or that are obvious. Most adults would be more than happy to support you, but not many will be very assertive in doing so. Partly that is because they don’t want to intrude on your life and a big barrier is that they don’t know how to support you – what would be helpful and welcome.

    So, we are back to being the author of the experience. You can lay out for adults you select what the competencies are that you want to develop and (a) let them know how you think they can help you or (b) ask them how they think they can help you. Some will probably disappoint you, but most will respond well.

    There are adults in clear roles, like teachers, coaches, counselors and bosses. Even parents. There are adults with specific competencies from whom you can learn, such as electricians, executives, shop keepers and chefs. There are also adults, like neighbors, extended family members, family friends, or parents of your friends, with interesting life histories from whom you can learn if you ask them about their lives.

    Most adults are there for you – willing to help in large and small ways. So, help them help you.
  • Helpers, Healers & Supporters

    Sometimes you just need help or support in developing competencies. That can range from people helping to find the opportunities or providing materials or transport to simply encouraging you or helping to develop skills or gain knowledge.

    As well as those noted above, helpers, healers and supporters come in lots of forms:

    • Neighbors
    • Family members
    • Extended family
    • Colleagues/co-workers of parents
    • Employers
    • People in community organizations
    • People in faith communities

Question #2

What can I Learn from These Supporters & How Do I “Help Them to Help Me?”

  • There Are Surprising Possibilities

    There are a surprising number of people I your life that you can learn something from. Most people are happy to share their abilities with someone who is genuinely interested – if they are asked. It’s surprising how many opportunities to learn large and small competencies there are when you think about the people in your life.

    You can simply think about the people in your world and choose those that you think can help you in building the competencies you want to build. It also helps to think about how they can help you so that you can ask for specific help, which makes it easier for them to say “yes.”

  • Coach People About How to Support You

    You are asking people to support you, not because you are weak or inadequate or “needy.” You are putting together a network to help you achieve goals so that you can meet the challenges of becoming a successful young woman or man. Someone who can contribute. You matter and are of significance, so you are worth supporting.

    This can be as simple as saying, “I am pursuing these goals and, if you are willing, I would like you to support me by __________________ (fill in the blank).”

    That may seem awkward, but in most cases, you will probably be very surprised at how willing people are to support you – they will like doing it. For most adults, teenagers are a mystery and they aren’t sure how to be supportive. If you tell them how to support you, you will actually be doing them a favor.

Question #3

How Can I Learn With Peers (& Others)

This is surprisingly important. Learning with others is a powerful way to learn. Even if you are learning a skill with one other person, it increases your chances of success. It makes it more likely that you will stick with it. You can challenge and support each other along the way. You can encourage each other. You can learn from each other.

As with adult supporters, you can also “contract” with peers to go forth together – challenging and supporting each other on the journey. “Let’s go forth together and challenge and support each other in ________ (fill in the blank).”

Simple Ways to Support Each Other

  1. Encourage each other
  2. Celebrate each others’ successes – particularly small successes along the way
  3. Challenge each other to “hold the course” and not give up or drop out or slow down
  4. Pick each other up when we hit barriers or setbacks or get frustrated or discouraged
  5. Challenge each other to do the homework or practice necessary
  6. Remind each other why we are committed to build competencies (we are significant, we need them to be successful young adults, it feels good to build a competency, etc.)
  7. Help each other by coaching where one of us is ahead on a topic
WORKSHEET

Part Three: The Keys to Mastering Your Competencies

Developing competencies is a life-long quest (hopefully). As an adult, you will be challenged to develop or master new competencies and you will have a choice about whether to say “yes” to those challenges or to back off. As a teenager, you have an extraordinary number of challenges to develop competencies that are thrown at you, which is obviously intimidating, but also an opportunity.

The opportunity as a teenager is to engage fully in pursuing those competencies because (1) you will prepare yourself to be a successful young woman or man and (2) you will develop the ability and confidence to continue to build or master competencies as an adult.

  • OK, Good or Master?

    Fortunately, you don’t have to master every competency. Most competencies you just have to get good at - or even just OK. A few you will truly want to master. Understanding the path to mastery, however, is useful regardless of the level of competence you want. It’s the same path. It’s just a matter of how far down the path you want to go.

  • The Rhythm of Mastery

    The rhythm of mastery includes times when our competency seems to be developing rapidly and it gets exciting as we make leaps. The practice obviously pays off. The natural rhythm of mastery also includes times when improvement just doesn’t seem to be happening – even when we practice as hard as ever. That’s the plateau and that’s where it is very easy to get discouraged, cut back on the practice and maybe even give up.

    "It's hard to beat a person who never gives up."

    ― Babe Ruth

    It is on those plateaus where we basically must trust in the process and in our practice and keep going even without the encouragement that obvious improvement provides. If we do, we almost always come to the next period of leaps in competency – and probably won’t be able to see it coming.

  • The Improvement Happens on the Plateaus

    The weird thing about this is that the improvement happens on the plateaus, when we are often frustrated or discouraged - and shows up in the spurts of improved performance. This pattern is a natural part of the heroic journey, so expect it and don’t be discouraged by it.

What we call “mastery” can be defined as that mysterious process through which what is at first difficult or even impossible, becomes easy and pleasurable through diligent, patient, long-term practice.

― George Leonard, Way of Aikido

#9 "Learning to Love the Plateau”

Where Mastery Happens

A few competencies are relatively easy to master, but most are not. Most of the important ones are not easy to master. The key is understanding the steps in the process of mastering something, particularly the unavoidable “plateaus”, when you just seem stuck. These plateaus are a natural part of life. No one’s path to mastery has ever been a constant steady upward path.

"Mastery happens on the plateaus – during the struggles – as a result of the practice"

  • As we begin the process of mastery we often experience a spurt of increased ability that feels good and encourages more effort.
  • At some point following that initial spurt we hit a plateau where our ability doesn’t seem to improve despite continued, or even increased, effort. It feels like we stalled or lost our momentum.
  • As that competence plateau extends despite efforts, it becomes very easy to get discouraged and lose heart. However, keep in mind that plateaus are not completely flat. There is some upward slant to them even if slight – progress is being made.
  • Losing heart leaves us vulnerable to giving up or investing less effort – we can get stuck or drop out.
  • If we persevere and focus on “right practice” vs. immediate outcomes, we eventually experience the next spurt in increased competence
  • It is usually impossible to see the spurt coming, which is one reason the mastery process is so tough and why perseverance and “right practice” is so important.
  • The pattern repeats. Hopefully, we learn from early plateaus and aren’t discouraged, so that persevering becomes a way of life and we get better and better at mastering the competencies we need.
  • One “heads-up.” As we begin to master a competency the spurts can be less dramatic and the plateaus can get longer. The more we master a competency, the more this may prove to be true. Again, don’t be discouraged. It’s just the way it works.

Relying on “Right Practice” and Support

(Mastery is a Team Sport)

  • “Right Practice”

    Remember that this is a journey and journeys happen over time – and they happen because we keep putting one foot in front of the other. Mastering these competencies also happens over time and with practice.

    Competency doesn’t develop without practice, so try to see practice as a valuable activity that gets you what you want – not just something that you have to do.

    It is the focus on what is called “right practice” – not results – that gets us across the plateaus and ion to the next obvious spurt in competency. As hard as it is to feel warm and fuzzy about homework, homework is a form of practice that leads to mastery.

    “We fail to realize that mastery is not about perfection. It’s about a process, a journey. The master is the one who stays on the path day after day, year after year. The master is the one who is willing to try, and fail, and try again, for as long as he or she lives.”

    ― George Leonard

  • Support

    The pursuit of mastery also benefits from having people who can teach, coach, mentor, tutor and generally support you – as well as companions to travel with on this journey. A lot of time will naturally be spent alone as you master various competencies, but as usual on the journey, support matters. In other words, mastery is a team sport – individual work is part of that.

"History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats."

― B.C. Forbes

A Note on Homework

  • Homework is practice. Make it work for you.

    Homework has a bad reputation. Everyone makes fun of homework. Most of the quotes you find on homework make fun of it. This is a major problem because it undermines one of your best opportunities to build competence – any competence.

    Too much homework is bad. Too little homework is bad. Otherwise homework is good – in general. Some teachers give poor homework assignments, but homework is basically practice – and you can’t build competency without practice.

  • If you make homework work for you, the benefits are kind of amazing

    Homework is practice in attention and focus, in time management, in exploration, in memorization, in analysis, in expressing yourself, in dealing with frustration, in discipline. It’s not just about completing an assignment.

    If you practice homework with intent and make it work for you – it gets easier and you get more and more out of it. And, because of all the benefits noted above, homework prepares you for adult life.

  • There is plenty of homework in adult life

    It just isn’t called homework. If you make homework work for you in school, that experience and competence will work for you as an adult.

  • DANGER! Losing Heart

    Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

    ― Winston Churchill

    • The biggest danger in pursuing mastery is getting discouraged

      There are always times on the heroic journey when discouragement, sometimes even hopelessness, intrudes and that can sidetrack or end a journey if we aren’t ready.

    Failures to heroic minds are the stepping stones to success.

    ― Thomas Chandler Haliburton

    • Setbacks, disappointments and failures happen. They are not a sign that you are off the path or not on the way to mastery and success

      The feelings they can generate – frustration, anger, feeling depressed, discouraged or inadequate – can be difficult, but they do not need to last. You can acknowledge them and accept them as part of the journey and then let them go.

      Then your energy can go back into “right practice” and learning from the experience. A great deal of our most important learnings comes not from success, but from dealing with the setbacks we encounter. We also learn from successes, but usually not nearly as much. You can become wiser and more resilient and you can get better at mastering your emotions vs. letting them master you.

    • The key is to realize that mastery has a rhythm to it and:
      1. “Learn to love the plateau” and trust your practice
      2. Persevere and deal with the inevitable setbacks and failures
      3. Develop new habits that support your competencies - and get rid of a couple of old habits

    We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn't. Success often lies just the other side of failure.

    ― Leo Buscaglia

    • Resilience/Perseverance

      The ability to “hold the course” is a critical success factor on the journey in general and it certainly is critical in the process of mastery. Setbacks, disappointments and failures are inevitable and the ability to experience them without being diminished or discouraged is key.

      Life comes with relationship problems, family problems, health problems, school and work problems. That’s just the way it works and resilience helps us “bounce back” and persevere – hopefully increasingly strong, wise and resilient.

      Resilience – the ability to persevere - is not a characteristic that people are simply born with – or without. It involves thoughts and behaviors that can be learned and developed and it grows through experience.

    Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.

    ― General Douglas MacArthur

#10 Habits



A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously

(Wikipedia)

Danger!

Habits can seem boring and they take some focus and some work to create. However, they can make your life easier and simpler and, at the same time, make a lot of good things happen. So, they are worth some attention and effort.

Basic Notes About Habits


  • This is About You and What You Want

    Developing habits is about you becoming who you want to be. It’s about simplifying your life. It’s you being the author of your life. It’s not about you doing something that others think you “should” do.

  • Habits Keep Us Sane – They Simplify Our Lives

    There are so many things to do in a day and so many decisions to make, that having most of them on auto-pilot (habits) is a life saver. Some habits are “well, duh” habits, like putting on my clothes before going down for breakfast, brushing my teeth after breakfast, putting my shoes under the bed so I don’t have to hunt for them, or putting my clothes in the same drawers after washing them.

    Others require a little more thought to form and are designed to keep me from having problems later, such as immediately putting things on a replacement list when I use something - for example, a new toner cartridge for the printer, a new tube of toothpaste, even a new jar of cocktail sauce for shrimp cocktail. If I immediately put things on a list I don’t have to worry about them later. Simple.

  • Healthy Habits

    There are also some habits I have that are healthy for me, such as doing sit-ups before I get out of bed in the morning, taking a moment to make sure I’m ready to bring my best before I enter a meeting and immediately making notes after a client meeting (I’m a management consultant). All of those habits make my life better and I don’t have to give much thought to any of them now that they are formed.

  • Unhealthy Habits

    Then there are the habits I would like to have and the bad habits that I do have. Two of my most troublesome bad habits are (1) eating too much ice cream and good pastries and (2) being disorganized in terms of filing things and tracking my finances. Both hurt me – one physically and one in terms of efficiency and effectiveness in my personal and professional lives. I feel guilty about those two frequently, but don’t do much about it.

  • Forming New Good Habits vs. Breaking Old Bad Habits

    Unless you have a very destructive bad habit that it is critical that you break, forming new good habits usually provides the most benefits.

    That is because (a) old habits are hard to break without new habits to replace them; (b) new habits are easier to form; and (c) forming new good habits is useful throughout life, so getting good at it as a teenager is great preparation for being an adult.

    So, we will address forming new habits first and then take a shorter look at breaking old habits.

Seven Keys to Forming Your Desired Habits


  1. So What? Why Develop a New Habit? Be Clear on the Benefits

    What will the habit get you? Developing new habits can take a lot of attention and work (not all habits). Why bother? New habits take work – over time – so make sure the habit is worth the investment. Make the benefits as clear as possible.

    Make sure it’s really something you want to do and you can see the benefit. You are developing this habit because it is of benefit to you – not because you are “supposed to develop it.” Of course, others might also benefit from your new habit (like parents and teachers or siblings), but first make sure it will be of benefit to you.

    Tomorrow’s victory is today’s practice.

    ― Multiple Authors

  2. Set Big Goals, But Take Small Steps

    Some habits are small and some are large. For the large ones, follow this guideline. For the small ones, you don’t need to because they will naturally be small steps.

    • Simple Habits

      For example, if the habit you want to develop is to do one thing for someone each day, that is pretty straightforward and you can probably just focus on developing that habit directly. No small steps needed.

      It can be as simple as asking, “What can I do for someone today?” - right after waking up (I know that sounds impossible). Or asking, “What can I do for someone tomorrow?” - just before going to bed. That way to connect a new habit to an old one – sometimes called “stacking” or using triggers.

    • Connect New Habits to Current Habits or Regular Events

      This is sometimes called “stacking.” The reason for attaching your new habit to an already existing activity or habit is that it makes it easier to remember to do it. The activity or old habit “triggers” the new one. It is sometimes called “stacking habits” or “chaining habits.” Obviously, the common factor is connecting your new habit to an old habit.

      That also works for the small steps you put together to achieve bigger or more complex habits as below.

    • More Complex Habits

      Some habits are tougher or more complex and are best developed through a bunch of small steps. For example, if you decide you want to eat a healthier diet you will probably want to identify the small steps that will get you there, none of which is too big.

      For example, you can put some, or all, of the steps below together vs. trying to jump right to healthy eating.

        • Set some easy to achieve goals for the beginning
        • Talk to someone knowledgeable about healthy eating
        • Check out resources on the internet (compare to find the credible ones)
        • Choose one meal per day to start and see how that goes
        • Expand to another meal when you are ready
        • Start with foods that are easy to get or make
        • Expand your menus when you are ready
        • Find one or two others with a similar interest and support each other
        • Track what you are doing and see what kind of a difference it makes
        • Celebrate small wins

        That might seem like a lot of steps, but each is small and you can combine them pretty easily and you will be able to see your habit begin to grow.

  3. Simplify - Create Routines

    If you want to be able to have more mental resources throughout the day - to form new habits or just be creative – it helps to identify those parts of your life that can be turned into routines that happen the same way or at the same time. This is really not restrictive. It’s actually quite freeing.

    Routines help get rid of clutter. The idea is to have fewer decisions to make, so you aren’t wasting time and attention on decisions that you’re probably going to make pretty much the same way. Then you can focus on the decisions that really need some thought.

    There are lots of examples and most of them are small – but they add up. For instance, you can:

    • Put out your clothes for the next day in the same place at night and then, when you wake up sleep deprived, you just stumble over and put them on.
    • Do the same thing for anything you need for school or work the next day. The added benefit here is that you will forget fewer things.
    • Brush your teeth immediately after a meal.
    • Do your laundry the same night each week (if you do your own laundry).
    • As soon as you get home, review your calendar to make sure you haven’t missed recording anything (like assignments) and know what’s coming
    • There are lots of other examples.

    The grass isn’t greener on the other side – it’s greener where you water it

  4. "Right Practice” – “Muscle Memory”

    Habits get built into our brain. Literally. But they only get built in over time and with repetition. Once they are built in, they last as they are self-reinforcing. My sister-in-law had two Corgie dogs (which were nuts) and they ran circles around their house until they had built a circular trench. That’s how habits form. This is similar to the “right practice” that is so important in navigating the plateaus in the mastery process.

    When we repeat actions to form a habit, we connect neurons in our brain and those connections get stronger and stronger. But we must consciously repeat the actions to build the connections and then we have a habit that pretty much runs on its own. Our brain is set up to make it happen automatically (or almost automatically). It’s also called “muscle memory”, particularly when related to sports or performing arts, but it’s mostly the brain and those neuron connections.

    “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

    ― Bruce Lee

  5. Go Public and Get Support

    This is surprisingly important. When you put yourself out there, it deepens your commitment. It’s that simple. It is also part of getting support from others. You don’t have to paint your commitment on the side of your house or put it on social media. Just let key people know what you are committing to do – even the little commitments.

    The support can range from building a new habit with someone else or a group to simply having someone ask you every day or week how you are doing. For some habits, like the eating healthy example, support can also come in the form of providing information or training.

  6. Give yourself a reward.

    If you practice well, take pride in it and give yourself a small reward that acknowledges your commitment.

  7. Be Prepared to Fail/Break Your Habit

    You are going to break your habit at some point. The key is to acknowledge it and let it go, so you can get back to building the habit – without guilt.

    You are going to break your habit at some point. The key is to acknowledge it and let it go, so you can get back to building the habit – without guilt.

    There are lots of possible reasons for setbacks. Sometimes the habit is too ambitious or there isn’t enough support. Sometimes other things interfere or must take priority for attention and energy. Sometimes unexpected factors show up. Sometimes you just get tired, worn out or discouraged. And sometimes you just have a bad day or week.

  8. The “Secret to Success.”

    So, expect some failures, acknowledge them as a natural part of the process, let them go without feeling guilty and get back to developing the habit. That secret to success is not just for habits – it will be important in many parts of life.

WORKSHEET

Breaking Bad Habits

  • Bad habits are tough to break because they provide some benefit we want.

    They can provide a reward, like dessert; stress reduction, like drug or alcohol use; escape from control, like not ordering your life, etc.

    A habit becomes a bad habit when it puts you at risk or creates negative consequences in how it provides its benefit. For example, eating desserts or drinking alcohol are not necessarily problem behaviors. But they are problematic when they are habits – done in reaction and without real choice or moderation.

    Habits are useful because they can simplify life by decreasing the number of decisions you need to make, but when they take the place of decisions that might be good for us to make, then they can be a destructive – to varying degrees.

    The problem is that getting rid of a habit to avoid the negative consequences (why it’s a “bad” habit) also gets rid of the reward and who wants to give up rewards? Everyone has bad habits. The key is to avoid bad habits that are really destructive.

  • A Three-Part Cycle (good and bad habits)

    There are three parts to habits and we need to deal with all three if we are going to break bad habits. If we take my bad habit of eating too many desserts as an example, the pattern is pretty clear. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to break the habit.

  • The Cue

    The cue is what starts the habit. I finish a lunch or a dinner. Then my body thinks there is some unfinished business and says, “Hey, where is the dessert?”

  • The Reward

    The reward is what comes to mind without any effort in response to the cue. I finish the meal and start looking for the treat – the ice cream or pastries. I want ice cream or a pastry to complete the experience (and my body wants the sugar and fat).

  • The Routine

    The routine is the habitual act that I engage in to get the reward. I eat the ice cream or pastries. I might be thinking, “This really isn’t good for me”, but the behavior is going to happen unless I really focus on changing it.

    That bad habit has dogged me for a long time. I have occasionally broken it, but it comes back. I’m not happy about it, but it continues.

  • Substitutes, Support and Going Public

    For me to break this habit I need to find a substitute for it. Sometimes fruit or cereal with berries works. Sometimes making sure that I exercise daily and weigh myself works (the reward is feeling better and seeing weight loss).

    However, what I really need to do is to enlist some help – ideas and ongoing challenge and support – and go public with my commitment to change the habit.. And I need to track my progress over time to see results that will become a reward.

    The answers don’t always come easily.

WORKSHEET

Part 4: Competency Building Pitfalls

  • Failing to “Heed the Call” to Go Forth or Failing to “Be the Author”

    This is the big pitfall because, if you don’t take on the author role and create the experiences for yourself, you will miss the opportunity to build too many of the competencies. Lots of opportunities to build competencies are offered to you, particularly in school, but many you have to go out and find elsewhere. AND – you have to take advantage of the school opportunities – not just survive school.

  • Focusing on Outcomes vs. the Journey

    It takes time to build competencies and it takes a long time to build all the competencies you will need. It’s a journey with ups and downs, successes and failures, excitement and frustration. Pay attention to the journey experience because the journeys keep coming as an adult.

  • Failing to Plan – “Over-doing it or Under-doing it”

    Failing to plan is planning to fail. Plans organize thoughts and actions and that’s important with all that’s going on in life. Good plans can actually simplify life – and support success in competency building. But, don’t over-plan as that can make it too cumbersome.

  • Failing to Find Support

    Trying to build the competencies without support is a recipe for failure. Heroes never went on journeys alone in the myths and neither should you. There is more support out there than you might think.

  • Failing to Persevere or Build on Setbacks/Failures

    Setbacks, disappointments, frustration and failures are simply part of the journey. Learning how to deal with them and learning from them are essential skills. Denying them or doing everything to “play it safe” is dangerous when confronted with the challenge to build competencies. There is a pattern or rhythm to developing competencies and such experiences as frustration and disappointment are part of it.

  • Failing to Build Habits

    Failing to plan is planning to fail. Plans organize thoughts and actions and that’s important with all that’s going on in life. Good plans can actually simplify life – and support success in competency building. But, don’t over-plan as that can make it too cumbersome.

  • Failing to Find Support

    Trying to build the competencies without support is a recipe for failure. Heroes never went on journeys alone in the myths and neither should you. There is more support out there than you might think.

  • Failing to Persevere or Build on Setbacks/Failures

    Setbacks, disappointments, frustration and failures are simply part of the journey. Learning how to deal with them and learning from them are essential skills. Denying them or doing everything to “play it safe” is dangerous when confronted with the challenge to build competencies. There is a pattern or rhythm to developing competencies and such experiences as frustration and disappointment are part of it.

  • Failing to Build Habits

    We build our habits and then our habits build us. Unfortunately, habits take time and discipline – they don’t form themselves and they don’t form quickly. It’s very easy to get tired or discouraged and give up before the habits are formed.